Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hear the Music

Ari Bussel

Could you wait 11 years—feeling, knowing with all your being someone is looking for you—with nothing more than mere belief to sustain your dream? In the movie August Rush, a young child hears the music, and it eventually reunites him with the parents he had lost eleven years before. As if the world had conspired to make it happen, the sounds of everything around him created a melody that drove him forward, ensuring hope survived and did not diminish, until he became one with his parents. This happens in movies, but it also happens when your belief in God is greater than the tribulations and challenges of this world. I sometimes wonder if I would have had the strength of character to continue being had I been in Europe of 1940: as the five-year-old boy my uncle was, the three-year-old boy my father was or the one-year-old my mother was. Or had I been the grandfather I never knew or the 26-year-old my grandmother was, with a son and daughter to protect.

I often like to imagine myself as the noble and just person, who would have shared his last crumbs, or a stale piece of bread or potato skins (not the type one orders at a restaurant with different fillings on the side but the type that smells so badly, hardly anything can compete with the stench). I would like to think I would have done so, a selfless and kind act, but statistics teaches us differently. Sadly, most people did not.

Merely handfuls among millions were righteous gentiles, whose belief in the Lord was so strong nothing was able to destroy their principles. Odd. Unique. An extraordinary breed of human beings no longer among us. Now, we may glimpse at them in a movie done before their death, or in a re-creation of their lives and words on stage.

They were young then. Forty, fifty or sixty years later they departed the world, to a special place where crowds stood and clapped upon their arrival, welcoming them into their midst. Honored to receive those few, who despite all odds showed strength of character only created by a craftsman so gifted everything produced by His capable hands was a unique, priceless gem.

Beauty and strength lie in the knowledge there is a greater design, a reason and a purpose. As one looked around, as my father and his cousin did as young children in the Warsaw Ghetto just before the uprising, how could one fathom the meaning or purpose? How would one reconcile such a puzzle?

A strange music floated through the air, and amongst the dead and dying, a poem was written and a child said, “But a butterfly I here did not see. And that was the last, the last of the last. Since butterflies do not live in the Ghetto.” What a majestic flight and color, amidst the unspeakable death.

It was a misty and cold night on December 25th, 2008, in Israel, as I exited Yad Va’Shem Holocaust Memorial on Mount Hertzel in Jerusalem. Alone I walked among the row of trees naming the Righteous Among the Nations, savoring each moment. On either side stood, in the mist after the rain, memories of unfathomable courage.

The Holocaust is not a justification for Israel’s existence. No one wished to believe it was happening, and the Jewish community in America did little to help while their brethren were being systematically exterminated in Europe. In Israel, though, something was happening. The Jews under British rule (the Mandate) heard shreds of what was happening in Europe. Most were acting to help the British in the fight against the Germans and all their personal hostility was suspended. A Jewish Brigade of the British Army was formed.

German Field Marshal Rommel had entered Africa to take over Egypt. In 1942 the Battles of El Alamein were to become a turning point: Churchill wrote, “Before Alamein, we had no victory and after it we had no defeats.” However, before fate changed direction, there was a feeling the Germans would soon conquer the whole region.

The Arabs were jubilant and under the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, they were cooperating with Hitler. The hatred in Israel was deeper than in Germany, the methodology perfected over centuries, a readiness to exterminate the Jews at an all-time high. The British prepared their retreat to India to leave scorched earth in Israel. I cannot know if the feeling among the Jewish population in Israel was of desperation or acceptance of one’s destiny to fall into the hands of a brutal enemy. Such a fate would have been unimaginable.

When commando operatives were required, among those who volunteered were David Raziel and Avraham Stern (“Yair”). Unlike the British, who were of light complexion, they looked like Arabs and spoke their language.

Raziel headed the underground organization formed in 1931, the National Military Organization (AZ”L), a paramilitary organization to defend the Jewish population against pogroms by the Arabs. When Raziel instructed the members to cease action against the British and to assist them in the wartime efforts against the Germans, the organization split.

Yair led the opposition who vowed to continue the armed struggle and resistance against the British Mandate over Israel. Yair and his people formed the underground organization later named Fighters for the Liberty of Israel (Lechi).

A series of books was written about a fictional youth group Hasamba, the Society of Absolutely Top Secret. During the British Mandate over Israel, Hasamba was battling the foreigners. While this series captivated the imagination of generations in the decades following the establishment of modern Israel, some real-life, legendary resistance fighters from the different underground groups are still alive and with us today.

Simon David, a Los Angeles resident for some six decades, was a member of Lechi. When modern Israel came into existence, he served in the first class of Israeli pilots. He recounts the following story: Raziel and Yair were sent to Iraq to attempt an assassination of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. He, however, was in Germany at the time, so while in Iraq carrying out their assignment by the British, they managed to kill only his bodyguard.

When they were ready to return, an argument developed between Raziel and Yair. Their retreat orders contained a detailed “evacuation” plan by the British. Yair argued the British did not like owing anyone, and since they had fulfilled their mission, something bad would happen. He refused to return according to plan, but Raziel and his men continued. They died on the way. Yair and his men survived, never again to trust the British.

A year later Yair, hiding in Tel Aviv, was murdered by the British officer who apprehended him following an extensive manhunt.

These legendary heroes gave their lives for a dream, a country that was theirs since the beginning of time, a promise and covenant by God to His people. They did not believe they would ever live to see the dawn of the new independent country, where Jews from all over the world would be free to return after an absence of close to two thousand years. Still they risked everything, and eventually gave everything for that dream to become a reality.

They truly cared about the Land of Israel, the Jewish Homeland. They were soldiers on the front line, believing their fight just and aims noble. They knew no fear and were certain God walked with them as their leader and protector.

This was their fight. This is still our battle. Israel will continue to exist, as from all time to the end of time. Empires arose and fell, and the Israelites lived through horrors the likes of which one cannot imagine. But the Jewish people persevered and remain still. We will always be, as long as we can hear the music.

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