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Funeral on Mount Herzl for Max Steinberg

Funeral on Mount Herzl for lone soldier Max Steinberg. (Image: Gil Yohanan / Ynet)

"Please note that the train schedule is interrupted due to a funeral on Mount Herzl"

These words, flashing in Hebrew, Arabic and English on the signs at each station of the light rail in Jerusalem yesterday, echoed strongly and paradoxically the story that our Poland-Israel Seminar participants had encountered just two weeks earlier on the way to Gura Kalwaria, home of the Gerer Hassidim, when on the occasion of the Rebbe's funeral, the Polish Railways added many trains to the line, to deal with the many thousands of Hassidim who made their way from Warsaw to the small town to honor their rabbi and his memory a century ago.

Yet here I was, on a hot summer's day and in Israel's capital, on the way in an overcrowded train to Mount Herzl to honor the memory of a fallen soldier, who had come to live in Israel without his family and volunteered to serve in a fighting unit, only to go to his death in the current fighting in Gaza.

At each stop, people struggled to get on to the train, and each carriage was filled to capacity, as thousands of people of all backgrounds made their way to pay their respects, to make a statement, to share in the grief and to say to Max Steinberg's family, "We are with you in your hour of pain" and "He is like our son, too". Thirty thousand people showed up, they say... more than reached Gur in the early 1900's to honor one of Poland's greatest religious leaders...

Thirty thousand people, many singing in unison, many hurting together, many hoping together, that Max's death should not be in vain...

And his family? How were they able to absorb the event? Overwhelmed, comforted, amazed at this outpouring... could they understand how their son, slight in build and great in spirit, had become a symbol for so many, a source of strength in these difficult days for a society united in wishing to eradicate an existential threat to parts of its citizenry, yet so deeply divided as to the path we need to follow when this round of fighting is behind us...

Today, everything looks different once again: rockets on Tel Aviv, talk of a ceasefire, cries of betrayal... but that chant of "Am Yisrael Hai" remains, with the uplifting moment of defiant support for a family in mourning at the loss of a son overriding the clamor and mayhem of the crowds...

Yehi zichro barukh... May his memory be a blessing.

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