One of the saddest duties of a Rabbi is to conduct a funeral. Of course, it is a mitzvah to accompany the dead – and the living; to walk alongside those who walk through the valley of the shadow of death. But it is also very sad and sobering. Since I became Rabbi of BHPS in December 2000, I have conducted the funerals of around 220 members. A Rabbi has a particular and ongoing familiarity with the finite nature of life.
Life is complex and in Hebrew, ‘life’, chayyim, is a plural word that expresses that complexity. On 9th May it will be Yom Ha-Atzma’ut, Israel’s Independence Day and the 71st anniversary of the establishment of the state. Since 1951, the preceding day, designated as Yom Ha-Zikaron, ‘The Day of Memorial’, has been set aside for commemoration of the soldiers and civilians killed during the decades of conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours, and between Israel and the Palestinians.
Political attempts to resolve the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians have failed so far. Out of this impasse, in 1995 a joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation, the Parents Circle Families Forum was set up to bring together those who have been bereaved on both sides – that is those with a tragic common bond who ‘instead of choosing revenge … have chosen a path of reconciliation’ (see: https://www.facebook.com/pg/FriendsBereavedFamiliesForum/about/).
With the help of Israeli and Palestinian psychologists, the PCFF facilitates meetings between Israelis and Palestinians who have been lost loved ones in the conflict, so that they can talk about and share their experiences. If you watched the TV programme, ‘We Are British Jews’, broadcast on BBC2 in September 2018, you will have seen in the second episode, the participants, who were drawn from right across the Jewish spectrum in Britain, travel to Israel where among other things they met two parents, one Israeli and one Palestinian, who are part of the PCFF
Since 2006, the PCFF has participated in an alternative memorial gathering on Yom Ha-Zikaron, dedicated to remembrance of both Israelis and Palestinians who have died in the conflict. This year’s commemoration has the theme, ‘Sharing Sorrow, Bringing Hope’ (see: http://theparentscircle.org/en/pcff-activities_eng/memorial-ceremony_eng/). While the political status quo remains largely unchanged, a growing number of those whose lives have been particularly devastated by the eruptions of violence over the past seven decades are listening to one another, acknowledging each other’s pain and forging relationships. As we commemorate Yom Ha-Zikaron this year, let us commit ourselves to listening to all their voices.