My Charedi Best Friend and Yom HaZikaron

My Charedi Best Friend and Yom HaZikaron

If I’m having a hard day, the first person I call is my beloved friend, Tova. And if she’s struggling with something, she calls me. But for quite a few years, there was one week a year when I refused to speak to Tova, because I was angry at her.

That week was the first week of Iyar, when we mark Israel’s Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism followed by Independence Day.

Among Israeli Jews, there is a wide spectrum of views regarding the State of Israel. On one extreme are flag-waving Zionists who believe that every single Jew living outside the State of Israel should jump on an (El Al!) plane ASAP and make aliya. On the other extreme are flag-burning anti-Zionists, who think Israel is a blemish on the world map that should be removed speedily and in our days.

On this Zionist spectrum, Tova and I fall somewhere in the middle. But we are far enough apart in terms of our attitude towards the State of Israel, that if Tova saw the 2-meter flag hanging this week down the front of our home, she would definitely cringe. And if she would explain to me why she’s cringing, I would definitely cringe back.

So, one of the secrets of our close friendship is that we try to keep cringing-causing to a minimum, and stay very far away from topics related to the State of Israel or mandatory army service or Zionism.

But, for me, the week of Independence Day and Memorial Day is just too loaded. 51 weeks a year I can handle the fact that she ignores these days that are so important to me, but not this week. It’s too hard.

And then last year, something changed.

Right before Iyar, I was listening to a class given by Rabbi Nivin. He was talking about the importance of working on loving our fellow Jews especially during this time of year, as a spiritual fixing for Rabbi Akiva’s students.

And then, one student called in and asked the following:

“I am assuming it is not a coincidence that some of the most controversial days of the year like Israel’s Independence Day and Memorial Day are during this time of year when we have to love each other. Can you give direction for this time of year when there is so much division?”

And this is what Rabbi Nivin answered:

“I never thought about that. Very true. You have to love everyone for their good qualities, whatever side you are on and also be clear what is right and wrong. I love everyone, all people, and sometimes I agree with their outlook and sometimes I don’t.

“I love them because they have good intentions. Whatever side of the fence you are on and whatever you hold by. I see the good in you because you mean well.

“Don’t get drawn into the ugly stuff that is flying around these days. Run for your life, hide under the covers!”

I rewound the class and listened to this question and Rabbi Nivin’s answer a second time, and then a third time. And suddenly I felt I my annual fury replaced by something new….

The next day, I woke up, and I thought about how much I love and respect Tova, and know she has good intentions, even though I deeply disagree with her outlook. I can believe I’m right and she’s wrong (and visa versa) and still love her–52 weeks a year.

So I decided that I would talk with her any day the following week, except Memorial Day. I don’t have to be furious at Tova but I don’t have to be all lovey-dovy either on my personal Day of Rage.

So the day before Memorial Day I gave Tova a call, to catch up with her so I wouldn’t have to speak with her the following day.

We spoke for a while about this and that, and before we hung up she said, “You know, tomorrow is my birthday.”

“Really?”

“Yes, April 26th.”

“Wow, happy birthday!”

I said wow, but I felt oy–how strange. The one day a year I totally didn’t want to talk to her, and it was the one day I had to call her!

The following day, a few minutes before 11 AM, I was standing in my kitchen lighting a yahrzeit candle to prepare for the siren. And right after I lit the candle, my phone rang. And I saw Tova’s name.

I hesitated, and then remembered Rabbi Nivin’s words: “Run for your life, hide under the covers!”

I answered my phone, and wished Tova a happy birthday, and suddenly, at 10:59, Tova hung up to take another call.

And at 11 AM, I stood with millions of other Israelis, tears streaming down my face, my mouth opened in the primal scream that is the siren on Yom HaZikaron.

Later that day, I thought about everything that had happened. The birthday, the phone call, the siren.

And I thought about how much Hashem loves Tova. And how much He loves the IDF soldiers who were killed sanctifying His name. And I felt that same love too.

15 comments

  1. Wow, Hashem is in this story the whole way…

  2. Would you share this article with her? I wonder what she thinks of it.

    • JewishMom

      I told her about it today. I was nervous what she would think, but she was really positive. She said she had no idea that these issues were so important to me!

  3. Beautiful.
    Thank you!!!

  4. Beautiful article! Did you see this video about how a charedi yeshiva h.s. in Beitar observes yom hazikaron: https://baltimorejewishlife.com/news/news-detail.php?SECTION_ID=37&ARTICLE_ID=101638&utm_source=alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=notify

    • JewishMom

      I just saw this video. amazing! does anyone know anything about this rabbi and yeshiva?

  5. Thank you for this article. Living in Israel for 33 years, I have always wrestled with this issue. And my feelings were like yours–anger and resentment at those who do nothing to acknowledge the terrible sacrifice of the thousands who have lost loved ones defending the Land of Israel. Rabbi Nivin’s words are like water slaking my thirst for unity. I am grateful to you for sharing them, and I hope I can let them penetrate my soul.

    • JewishMom

      thank you sara. This comment (especially coming from you) means a great deal to me:)

  6. Hadassah Aber

    I am glad that you were able to communicate with your friend and that became aware of your feelings w/o it becoming a fight or issue. I will forward you a video about soldiers .

  7. Yocheved

    Chana Jenny! I was the one who asked the question to Rav Nivin and had no idea it made such an impact on you! Wow. Years later the same question continues to float through my head and each year I get new insights into it. it is clearly no coincidence that all the days of potential ” machloket” come out during the mourning time of sefira, and in addition in the week of tifferet. May we all continually work towards the tikkun of rabbi akivas students, having respect for others especially those we don’t understand, and find harmony, beauty and balance in all the complexities of our avodat Hashem and experience true unity of am yisrael really soon.

  8. Thank you so very much for sharing this.
    I grew up in a very Zionistic family, and became charedi on my own over the years. I married a charedi man and our family lives a charedi lifestyle. I love and appreciate the charedi lifestyle, except for one thing. The total indifference of the charedim to Yom Hazikaron. Every year I am upset with it, and this year I got really angry.

    I didn’t know what to do with my anger. I can’t change the system.
    So thank you so very much for posting this. I think I will read it over and over again until I can forgive my charedi brethren, and continue to respect them even though there are things I don’t understand.

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