A Monument of Comfort
He shall be like a tree planted by waters,
Sending forth its roots by a stream:
It does not sense the coming of heat,
Its leaves are ever fresh;
It has no care in a year of drought,
It does not cease to yield fruit.
- Jeremiah 17.8
Thus the prophet Jeremiah speaks of the one whose trust is in God.
On a quiet hilltop in the heights of Rosh Pina in northern Israel, overlooking the Hula Valley and the Golan, there is a small stone monument carved with the beginning of this verse from Jeremiah. It stands within a lovely little park at the scenic overlook, as if in silent watch over the hamlets and villages in the valley below. There is a tree and a few brightly colored benches, which offer visitors a quiet place to sit and think for a few minutes, as they take in the exquisite expanse.
Written on the monument is the following, with the caveat that I have rendered the two last lines not literally, but in a way that makes the most sense to me in English.
THE BE'ERI LOOKOUT
(followed by the verse from Jeremiah)
In memory of BE'ERI (BARRY) OVED, zichrono liv'rachah
Born 19 Sivan, 5742 - October 6, 1982
Killed in a terrorist attack on the #37 bus
on Moriah Boulevard, Haifa,
1 Adar II, 5762 - May 3, 2003
BARRY, you were a well of fresh water for us;
Your beaming smile of grace will remain with us forever. . . .
Throughout Israel, there are quiet monuments similar to this one, though in its simplicity and quietude, this one is particularly moving. At his funeral, Barry's sister Limor said: "He was modest and shy, and gave all he had to everything he did." A Staff Sergeant in the Army, Barry was in Haifa to visit his grandparents, when he boarded the No. 37 bus, along with Christians, Druze, and Jews. 15 people were killed on that bus, 8 of them children under the age of 18. There was also another soldier killed with Barry, who was 20. Barry was laid to rest in the Rosh Pina Military Cemetery.
It seemed particularly meaningful that we happened by this overlook on this past Sunday, as the country marked the observance of the 9th of Av - Tish'ah B'av. It is the day that memorializes the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and then, became the assigned date as well for numerous other disasters that followed. Tish'ah B'av is traditionally observed as a day of fasting and mourning. Reform Jews have never observed this fast, by and large, because at least ideologically, we have not considered ourselves to be "in mourning" for the Temple, and don't particularly hope to see it rebuilt anytime soon. . . . Nevertheless, Reform Jews as well, over recent years, have developed a keener sense of historical identification with these events, and the observance of Tish'ah B'av, at least in some form, has come into the Reform consciousness much more palpably. In addition, it is virtually impossible to be here in Israel, particularly in Jerusalem where the Temple once stood in all its splendor, and not be aware of the terrible destruction that took place here, plunging our people into a state of exile and depression. Certainly we New Yorkers can relate, when we remember what we went through on 9/11. As the ruins of the Twin Towers covered the streets of Lower Manhattan, so did the huge stones of the Temple and its precincts cover the broken streets of Jerusalem. And certainly, Tish'ah B'av as a day of commemoration of disasters that have befallen our people is a day for us to take into our hearts, regardless of the fine points of our modes of observance.
The quiet little park dedicated to the memory of Barry Oved reminds us of all the victims of hatred and fanaticism whose lives have been so wastefully cut short in the name of - - something-or-other. . . . Whether Jew, or Muslim, or Christian or Druze, or the appropriate counterparts elsewhere in the world, humanitarians and peace-loving people everywhere have been hurt and brutalized. Yet, the quietude of this park can also remind us of our capacity for good - our aspiration not to tear down but to build; not to hurt, but to comfort; not to dominate, but to live in peaceful coexistence.
This coming Shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu - the Sabbath of Comfort. "Comfort, O comfort, My people. . ." says Isaiah. Perhaps the overriding message of Tish'ah B'av is to reject destruction and brutality and instead work to build a just and peaceful society.
Nachamu, nachamu ami, yomar Eloheichem. . .
Comfort, O comfort, My people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. . .
A voice rings out:
"Clear in the desert
A road for the Eternal!
Level in the wilderness
A highway for our God!
Let every valley be raised,
Every hill and mount made low.
Let the rugged ground become level
And the ridges become a plain.
The Presence of the Eternal shall appear,
And all flesh, as one, shall behold -
For the Eternal God has spoken."
- from Isaiah 40.1-5