May 5, 2014

60 Days of Growth – The Sound of Silence (Day 7)

Zach Morrow of West Coast NCSY, in his Tzahal Uniform

Zach Morrow of West Coast NCSY, in his Tzahal Uniform

Today, in honor of Yom Hazikaron, I felt it appropriate to ask Zach Morrow, an Israeli Soldier and staff member of NCSY, to write a guest post. Please find his inspiring words below:

One month into advanced training, my unit received a call on Motzei Shabat, as we prepared our gear for a three day war-game in the vast desert wilderness that is the Negev. Close to the border with Egypt, the Givati training base was and is a little hole of Gehinom where boys become soldiers and learn how to protect the citizens and residents of the State of Israel. Needless to say when we were told to stop preparing our gear and put on our Madei Alef (Dress Uniforms) we breathed a sigh of relief, realizing that the three days of Gehinom we were about to embark upon had been postponed and we would have a chance to go home a bit before that. We were called to attention and the Rassar (Battalion Quartermaster) came to give us a release before we go. As he passed each and every one of us, inspecting our uniforms, we tightened up as he passed, making sure that nothing was out of place, ensuring that nothing could slightly jeopardize what we had believed was a completely random and lucky trip home, something unheard of in the IDF.
He then stood in front of my platoon and explained that we had not been so lucky and that we had been chosen for a special duty.
In a loud voice, edged with pain, he explained how that afternoon, as we lounged around, a Givati unit had come under attack, and one of the soldiers, a Miliumnik (Reservist) had been killed in the line of duty. It would be our honor and highest duty to escort him to his final resting place on Har Herzl.
We gathered onto the bus and slept as much as we could, arriving at our destination at two in the morning, before heading back to sleep on the bus. For the next few hours the bus was silent, not because of the sleeping Chayalim (soldiers), rather we were awake, listening to the silent night pass as we pondered what would be the next day.
We were woken at 6 am, and ran drills for the next two hours learning how to be an Honor Guard. Back and forth we marched and mock-fired into the air, pretending to say the final goodbye to a brother-in-arms we had never met.
Over the next few hours, we retrieved our brother, and guarded him as we made our way to Har Herzl. As we entered the cemetery we stood guard and marched with the pallbearers as they took their family member to the Kever (grave). As the funeral proceeded and we stood there frozen,waiting for command after command, wanting to execute it to absolute perfection. I lost my ability to think; my mind went numb. I was a man solely of purpose for that moment. And then it all changed.
As the Rabbi began to chant the El Maleh Rachamim prayer, a cry ran out from the back. The best explanation I have for it , is the Hebrew, Tza’Akah, a loud cry of pain, edged with urgency, as the mother of our charge fell to her knees before the casket, crying profusely and loudly shouting and yelling out for justice in the world. It was the noise that shook me, broke me from my perfect stance. It was then I felt a rush of pain and empathy, and undue angst over my inability to help this woman.
There’s something about sound that roots us back to our core. That shakes us and distills us down, concentrating on one emotion, rather than the complexity of our current situation. We all have those songs that take us back or put us in the right place. When I listen to Mumford and Sons, it puts me into the frame of mind when I first heard it. The Rambam notes in Hilchot Teshuva, that the inherent mitzvah is not blowing the shofar, rather hearing it. And for those that hear it, it is the call to action, to wake up and do teshuvah, returning ourselves to the will of the creator (Hillchot Teshuva 3:4).
At least for me, the sound of the shofar is precisely that.  It reminds me and pulls me back into teshuva, into remembering my place in this world and my job and partnership with the Creator. But it’s the sound afterward that pushes me forward. The silence is what tells me “Now its time to go perform your duties.” It is the differential between the reminder and the action: the alarm clock and getting out of bed.
On Yom HaZikaron, in Israel, there is phenomenon that stops first-timers in their tracks, literally. At 11 am a Siren rings across the entire country. Cars stop in the middle of the highway. People exit their cars and stand in memoriam and tribute. The Siren blasts and a chill runs down your spine. For a minute the entire country listens to the same note. Somber and Respectful, the nation is united by sound. What comes next is deafening. There is a moment, before the military cemeteries begin their ceremonies, that there is absolute silence. The entire country for one minuscule second is silenced by the noise of the Siren, and experiences what can only be described as a Chisaron, a “depletion.”
Like the Shofar, Remembering and Honoring our lost soldiers happens two ways. It starts with the call of remembrance, but the true message for me is the silence. It’s the break afterwards that pushes me into purpose. The Silence speaks inaudible words “They passed for a reason, it’s time to make it manifest.”
The only comfort to me on Yom HaZikaron is standing inside of the populace of the Jewish People, and knowing that because of the people who gave their lives, I can stand here today. What you do with that is up to you.
Today’s Jewish Mission: If you don’t know someone that has passed in the service of the people of Israel’s future, take a moment and find one you can attach to. Be it Roi Klein, Michael Levin, Gadi Ezra, or someone else. Take a moment and Remember them and their sacrifice. And then do them the honor of taking some action on it. Make something in this world for the betterment of the Jewish People.

-Zach Morrow