Sunday, April 22, 2007

YU Israel Club: Yom Hazikaron


If you are able to correct me with regard to spelling, names and/or fill in gaps, that would be most appreciated.

(The room is absolutely packed with people. Not enough room- people sit on the floor, are standing, are in the hallway.)

Introduction: Just two weeks ago on Pesach we read an excerpt from Yechezkel- chillingly appropriate for Yom Hazikaron- God comforts the Jews- “through your blood you shall live”- all the people who died defending Israel since 1960- thankful for 59 years of Independence- those who fell in their innocence because this was their dream- before we begin our program we’d like to thank everyone who helped (Avi and I want to thank) Phil Blumenfeld, parents of Michael Levin, Shoshana Fruchter, etc…may the story here tonight show us how ______.

(stood up- Keil Malei Rachamim)

Lit 7 candles for seven wars Israel has fought and survived.


The movie “A Hero in Heaven” was now shown- it is the story of Michael Levin, z”l.

Michael Levin- joined the IDF, lone soldier, killed in action, “A Hero in Heaven”

They say there is a land/ A land drenched in sun/ Where is that land?/ Where is that sun? (they are singing in Hebrew)

Dearest Harriet, Mark, Lisa and Dara- write this letter to salute the parents of the greatest hero I have ever known- who admire and look up to your son and brother as the great Jewish hero he was. My precious Dara- I am at a loss for words, you have been on my mind and in my prayers- being Michael’s twin has to be the hardest for you- heart is broken for you

Michael’s Mother: One of thousands of cards and letters we received from people- to many people Michael is a role model/ hero, to us, our family, he was just our Michael- February 17, 1984 not only blessed, doubly blessed, birth of Michael and Dara- beautiful family with Elisa and older sister – wonderful family life here and considered ourselves very closely- very close-knit family- rarity where you find a picture of him where he’s not having fun and he’s not smiling. (Where was I before the day/ that I first saw your lovely face song) We celebrated all those wonderful milestones that families share together- bar and bat mitzvah together, big highschool prom, graduation from highschool, all those wonderful moments that makes life so special, people always ask me where did Michael get this devotion, this great love of Israel- great deal came from my parents, both Holocaust survivors- hearing stories from my father/ about my father contributed to Michael’s desire to have a homeland/ etc

Michael’s Father: My father was a decorated combat veteran in 2nd world war and Michael was named after him (Melech was Hebrew name- means Hebrew) He was so humble, felt uncomfortable being called Melech the King

Took tremendous pride in our family history- would always sign in his name, Love, Michael Levin- never left the Levin out, didn’t matter who he was writing to (family or friends) Became more religious and by the time he reached highschool, was looking in one direction and one direction alone. Michael was like a brother to me- grew up on same street, Camp Ramah together, went to Israel for first time together.

One of the biggest influences was when he started to attend Camp Ramah- like all of the contemporary things the kids liked but Jewishly and live a Jewish life- went to Israel with several friends during high school- learned with Jesse Katz- was in love with the land and in love with the people- experience of the lifetime for Michael- it changed his life forever.

For right now in my classroom in Alexander ____ highschool in Israel- here that Michael and I met for the first time when cam to my program in February- look around at the walls you see heroes/ heroines who gave us 4000 years of Jewish history- already in class back then he was soaking it up

David Keren: Came on Netiv in a very difficult year- midst of Intifada- remember first day of the year he comes up to me and says, "The reason I came- after the year on Netiv, I’m going to join the Israeli army.” For someone to come the first day of the program and make this statement was really an exceptional thing.

Parents: Went to New York, took care of his papers, said he was making aliyah to Israel- I’m leaving.

Was always very funny, always full of pranks, always being silly- other end of the spectrum when it had to do with the security of Israel and all that stuff, he was so serious- but that’s Mike- wool hat and baseball and hockey

Benjamin Steward (Israeli Paratrooper): Really just never seen someone just thrive and love Israel like he did- he had such a passion for it- no matter what was going on had nothing bad to say about Israel- which was amazing because it’s very hard to be a new immigrant, you know everyone complains…he’d have a smile and say, “you know, this and this happened, but this is how it is”

Admissions Officer: “Hello, I’m Michael Levin, and people say that if you want to go to the army, you’re the man,” he said to me. I spoke to all the young kids at the Ulpan and met a young fellow, with kippah on his head, small, all the time smiling- “Mike, go eat some chicken, go ahead” (because Michael was so small). He said “It’s okay, I’m strong, I will prove it to you”- because Michael was physically small in size people made the mistake of underestimating him and that was a big mistake.

Michael’s Father: How he gained admission to the army-he had waited for a very long time for his papers and they hadn’t come, so decided to take matters into his own hands. He went down to the admissions building, stopped by 2 armed guards, they said “Papers” he said I don’t have any, I need to get in to get papers! So he left and saw he had to be more creative to make this happen so walked to back of the building- everything barred- but on 2nd floor saw window open- found a dumpster and pushed it against the building, climbed on the dumpster, climbed up the bars, got to 2nd floor, tumbled into mens’ room, found appropriate office, sat down- so walked in, person said “Papers!” and he said, “Don’t have any papers,” so man said “You can’t get through the front door of this building without any papers” and Michael said, “What makes you think I came through the front door?”

So man was very impressed- Michael breaking in to get INTO the army; other young men try to get OUT of the army.

Benjamin Steward: (Paratrooper talking about first time you put on uniform)- feel so proud, amount of pride that you have inside when you’re walking down the street, whether it’s Israelis who are looking at your uniform or tourists who are staring at you- feel like you’re something more now, feel like you’re part of the country, come here to be something, have come hear to volunteer

On his back 40 kilo- and he’s little- if you believe, it’s okay; if you don’t believe, it’s very hard- I believed, so it’s not hard for me. First jump he only weighed 118 pounds so drifted off course- 2nd jump, they put weights on him.

Got our red berets together on Ammunition Hill- so much history on Israel there- 90 mile march and get there and standing on same spot where these people fought- this belongs to us; this is our right; I choose to be here and to defend this land.

Michael became very close friends with Gilad, his commander in basic training- incredible bond between the 2 of them-

“Hamefaked” Gilad: “Standing on the side was an American guy whose Hebrew wasn’t so good. At one point the very large group was ivided into smaller groups, platoons. And this guy, Michael came up to me- said “Nice to meet you, I’m Michael.” So he said Hamefaked, called me Hamefaked, Hamefaked Gilad- So he said what to do, what’s going on?

He said everyone else here is children- I’ll be 21 soon; they’re only 18! So I told him this is how it goes, so I did my thing as a commander and turned around and started laughing really hard- laughed at his accent and everything that was Michael.

Always just had this giant smile on his face.

Michael was inducted into the Israeli army- Mark and I flew over to be there for him and I think it was one of the proudest moments of his entire life- “He’s a good one, I saw in training- working very, very hard.” Since time he was a little boy wanted to go to Israel and fight in the army- that was his dream, always. “God gave him this desire, this neshama.”

Everytime we spoke, I saw the fire he had in his eyes when he spoke about State of Israel, how important it was.

“That’s the truth, man, no pain, no gain- you don’t take the pain, not going to get into the best unit.”- Michael

“Smile would drive me crazy- in a good way.”

Last time Michael came home for a close friend’s daughter’s wedding- took him to a Broadway show, took him to a Phillies game- that’s when everything started, he cut his vacation and came to Israel- had to get back, that’s where he wanted to be.

So they told him- go to Chevron or stay where you are- extremely hard for him to accept the fact that he was still on the outside and would have to wait a little longer before he could join us- so he called me and saying how they’re asking me to look after the stuff here and I want you to call up and influence them to let me go (Tziki Aud) This time- I’m not calling anyone.

Hamefaked said Michael told him “I’m always in the front line- I’m so upset with my officers; I want to go, take me with your soldiers” so I said, “Michael, take care of yourself- just stay, take care of yourself. Typical Israeli reassurance, it’ll be okay.”

Mike pushed all the time to go into Lebanon- the capture of the Israeli soldiers that started this war affected him deeply- it was as though they’d taken his best friends.

Shlomie Singer (IDF Medic): We were on the bus and I asked somebody who was religious if I could borrow his kipah to say shma yisrael so Micael took his off his head and kippah was huge, bigger than his head- gave it to me, so I said shema yisrael- gave it back to him, put it on his head.

[back to white text]

While Michael’s unit was on the move, they were attacked from the buildings and in the open space- his unit managed to take over a building- sadly, a barrage of shots out of a terrorist’s automatic weapon got in through one of the buildings- hit Michael and wounded 2 soldiers next to him.

Shlomie Singer: Both me and the medic were both totally exhausted- thought we were going to pass out- ____ gave the medic a big hug and told god to take care of Michael. (fadeout)

Though injured from shrapnel and in a state of shock, Shlomie Singer carried Michael on his back to a designated safe house. Out of respect for Michael, the body was ___.

Michael’s unit was rescued/ Michael’s body moved to a house of nearby platoon- another unit to take his body back to Israel.

“Hamefaked” Gilad: I had told myself since I had the honor of removing this dead soldier- pay my respects- took people- four people carrying the structure- decided that I was going to do this all the way- it was this feeling, don’t know how to explain it- was going to complete this to the end even though I didn’t know who I was carrying (Hamefaked). We must reach the border- moving under severe fire- wasn’t easy at all, got to border, wounded were transferred- everyone was pleased that the mission was accomplished- as I was going to go up a big hill into the base across the border the section commander came up to me and said, “You know, Gilad, that stretcher was really light- that body didn’t weigh anything at all” so I agree and he said, “That Michael was a really light thing” I said, “What? Who did you say?” He said “Michael. What, you didn’t know you were carrying Michael?” Then I went into shock. Simply didn’t know what to say. “Are you really serious? That was Michael?” I couldn’t hold back just like I can’t now- I started to cry so I was pulled aside- I understood that I had carried Michael all night. It was so hard to comprehend what happened. Very difficult.

Within hours of the battle, the worldwide Jewish community learned that a lone soldier from the USA, Michael Levin was killed in battle- first paratrooper and only Israeli/ American to fall in this war- buried at Jerusalem’s Mount Hertzl Military Cemetary- honored request of their son.

“We are only concerned we may not have a minyan in Israel. No one knows us in Israel”- Michael’s parents (then they show pictures of masses of people there)

"Hamefaked" Gilad: In my opinion, Mount Herzl, the final resting place for Michael is the place for heroes. That’s the place where laid to rest are all the people who sacrificed for the State of Israel. Former Prime Ministers, great commanders and Michael Levin. I see no difference. It symbolizes sacrifice and truth. There is nowhere else Michael should rest in peace. It symbolizes everything he was. The sacrifice, the great sense of mission that he had by making Aliyah and volunteering. It says it all.

Michael’s Father: When we pulled up to the cemetery, our first reaction was disappointment, because saw hundreds of people OUTSIDE the cemetery in cars and taxis- and thought there must be five, ten, fifteen funerals going on at one time- it’s going to be crazy in there- little did we know that everyone, everyone that was there was there for my… The crowd was huge. Could have been in the thousands. That’s- there were trucks with loudspeakers that went through the streets of Jerusalem that day- America- soldier in the IDF has fallen in battle. People came from all over the country- secular, reform, Orthodox, black-hatters; there was a fast day in Israel- completely religious- Shabbat (or did he say Tisha 'av here?)- people walked for hours and hours and fasted all day- walked halfway across the city just to be there. For some reason, Michael’s story- the ideals that he stood for- sacrifice captured the hearts and minds of people all over the country and all be there ___ till that day.

Today, Tisha b’Av in Yerushalayim…place where hearts have been breaking throughout Jewish history- hearts breaking again- devastated by Michael’s loss- but profoundly proud of his courage and dedication to serve the IDF with every fiber of his being.

Dear Michael- great fighter- heavenly advocate for Am Yisrael at this time- I, who served 30 years in the Israeli Defense Forces, salute to you.

Shlomie Singer: Went back to base after the funeral, going through Michael’s stuff- looking through one of the sidepockets and in there was an Israeli flag.

Every eye can see/ Your sorrow has no name/ Your pride is overwhelming/ (song in Hebrew)

Michael’s Mother: Every mother wants to keep her child close to her. Michael told me before he went back to Israel that if anything should happen he wanted to be buried in Har Herzl. Was a difficult decision but not for very long- how could we not honor his last wishes and that’s where he belonged- that’s where his heart and soul was- that was home to Michael- that had to be his final resting place. This kipah (she’s caressing a kipah) this is what he wore into battle when he fell- this is like having a part of Michael- I’m holding him.

“Hamefaked” Gilad: I believe you can read a person by their eyes. Only by reading a person’s eyes you can see if they mean what they say- that’s something I’ll never forget about him- everytime I stood in front of him, whether I was shouting at him or laughing at him his eyes would open wide with a spark in them. “Commander” Gilad. It’s not easy. Not easy. Beyond saying how proud I am for what you’ve done, I’ve learned so much from you. Just like I always told him- He was a friend, like a brother, like family. You sleep by my side- at home and in the army. Always.

Michael’s Mother: People come up to me all the time and ask me about the wings that I’m wearing because I have them on all the time- people came up to me after the funeral and gave us hugs/ kisses- one soldier, wish I remember who, gave me his wings and said we were part of the paratrooper family now.

Wanted to help lone soldiers like him, to help contribute emotionally, materially, physically to make it easier for them- ideals he stood for- this fund will help make it a little bit easier. Yonatan Natanyahu- soldier he admired the most.

“He (Michael) wanted to have his convictions and his actions tally with one another. There is no Jewish people without the state of Israel; there is no State of Israel without people willing to defend it- to die for it. This is ultimately the term is that we’re here- if we had no people like Michael- we wouldn’t’ be here.”

Michael’s Father: Michael was a Religious Zionist who believed in prophets- believed events would play out in Israel- believed in protecting from radical terrorists- considered it an honor to serve in the army.

Dara got a phone message from him the day before but didn’t get to listen to it till the day after he died.

“Hey Dara what’s up- it’s your brother- anayways I’m just calling because I’ in the middle of the war and it’s crazy as hell and want you to know that I do love you and if anything should happen to me…I love you, miss you, wish you all the best and will hopefully talk to you later…*kiss* bye.”

Michael may have only lived 22 years but in his 22 years he did more than most of us do in an entire lifetime. Doing exactly what he wanted to do where he wanted to be- honor his memory by seeing what he lived for, not how he died.

Protected me, protected my baby- protected everyone who was there.

Shaul Chernokovsky- great Zionist poets- poetry touched so many with passion and love of Israel- say that there is a land- couple of lines that touch me because I believe that they were talking about Michael.

“Shalom lecha Akiva/ Shalom lecha Rabi”
Peace to you Rabbi Akiva
Peace to you Rabbi
Where are the saints?
Where is the Macabee?
Answers him Akiva
Answers him Rabbi
All of Israel is sainted
You are the Maccabee

History made by people like Michael- Michael wanted to be a Macabee and in the end he died becoming that hero.

Michael’s Father: They say there is a land- a land drenched in sun- where is that land? Where is that sun? Where is that sun? Where is my son? My son is a hero in heaven.

An American Oleh whose love for God and Israel was Eternal (on the matzevah).

You can’t fulfill your dreams unless you dare to risk it all- Michael Levin

The Jewish National Fund has announced a permanent memorial will be elected to honor Michael on Ammunition Hill.


Israel Club President: Um- before we begin the program, we’re going to ask if some people can move to the front so some people can get into the room who are still waiting outside.

(say tefillah l’shalom hamedinah)


Phil Blumenfeld:

Good evening- my name is Philip Blumenfeld- I served in Golani 51 and tonight I’m going to speak to you about my friend Amichai who was killed in the Lebanon war this past summer.

At around 9 AM local time at about 12…rocket near coast and near village of Zarif as well as some Israeli towns such as…at same time Hizbullah contingent across the border captured Gilad and Eldad, killing 3 and injuring 2. 5 more soldiers killed while

Operation TruthBolt Promise? After Hassan Nasrallah’s promise to capture Israeli soldiers. Israeli Prime Minister described this as an act of war, saying Lebanon would bear the consequences of its actions- Israel fought in what is now known as 2nd Lebanon War- over 350,000 Israeli citizens spent days in bomb shelters. 43 Israeli citizens were killed- today we remember those individuals. 117 Israeli soldiers gave their lives to fight against Hizbullah, to fight for their country- today we remember these soldiers.

Each soldier is worthy to speak of- but want to speak about one individual- one soldier who was very close to me, Amichai Merchavia.

Yaakov Shimshon Amichai- roshei teivos Yesha- son of ___ and Tova- brought up in Yishuv Eli- brother to Emunah, Shira, Yigal, Orit, Yair, Avraham, Bracha (and more, I missed) As small kid loved Israel- loved the land and loved to do tiyulim throughout the country. After high school like many religious Israeli boys, decided to study in Hesder Yeshiva- main priority to find a yeshiva that suited his Torah- Torah of Eretz Yisrael- Merkaz HaRav- Yeshiva of Rabbi Kook. Decided that his time had to be combined with ma’asim tovim and volunteered his time to organizations like ____. His best friend was killed during his studies.

After untimely death of his friend, Amichai wrote and published a book about Ein Genim- wrote history of Jews who lived in Jenin (spelling?) to show that his friend hadn’t died for nothing. We discussed ideas to get the book more recognized in United States and Israel – today I understand that feeling. Wanted his friend Shmuel to be recognized.

Amichai saw everyone as his friend, even our commanders, which sometimes got him into a little children- specifically one story which I’ve mentioned before when I’ve spoken at YU about him- epitomizes who Amichai was-

First week at training camp- officer said we must learn what it means to sacrifice for one another. Two people must volunteer to stay on the base for Shabbat while everyone else went home- a few minutes to draw lots or to volunteer our own- first Shabbat home we al wanted to go home, show off uniform, new gun, some of mother’s good coming. Amichai, before anyone else could say anything, said “Ani mitnaded”- I volunteer. Needless to say, after that the second volunteer was easily found.

Amichai always took the jobs nobody wanted- Amichai would take the bad guard duty, but after a while we said, “No, we’ll do it” and someone else would gladly volunteer- wasn’t because we felt guilty but because we all learned from Amichai that you don’t sacrifice for people when it’s easy for you but when things are tough- when you’ve been yelled at, hungry, tired- that you look beyond yourself and help your friend.

First year in Golani- went to all these places- Amichai was clearly an expert in each place we went to; looked to him to tell us what tourguides couldn’t tell us. Loved to educate us- see in his face that every step he took in the land was a zechut and a blessing. One of our last visits was to Har Herzl- commanders speak about their friends whom they had lost. They spoke about many heroic acts.

Today, chills run down my spine- thinking on that day I looked at my friends and thought, “Will I be here one day?”

Amichai received Golani’s Excellent Soldier- no one’s surprise. Amichai was a natural born leader. After our short time together in Krov on the field, Amichai was accepted into Commander School- became a katzin, and then he felt he had the power to speak and his voice could be heard- wrote a letter to the Ramat Kal- wrote him telling him how he felt about the Gaza Withdrawal and in a respectful manner told him that the disengagement was wrong.

Thought he could meet with Ramat Kal- sit with him with a cup of coffee. Ramat Kal had other ideas and wanted to strip Amichai of his honors- all he had worked for. But Amichai, thanks to intervention of others, was only placed on three week probation- even promoted before his final battle.

Story going around about Amichai and 2 of his close friends-

Roey Klein also came from the Yishuv Eili- warning came out, they were sitting on Lebanon Border- Amichai’s term to go take his unit to do a stakeout- told they had to be there for 24 hours and 24 hours passed by and everything was great but they got onto the kesher and the warning is still on and you have to sit here for another 48 hours. So Alex, who was another lieutenant with Amichai, bought all the new supplies- water, food- Amichai had one special request- requested that Alex would bring for him his tefillin. Now Alex was Chiloni- secular Jew- said sure, whatever, fine with me, but when they came to his meeting point, Alex said, “Oh, don’t have the tefillin.” So Amichai was upset and set why not? Why didn’t you bring it? So Alex said Roey told me not to bring the tefillin. So Amichai gave a whole long lecture by the importance of tefillin so Alex was so moved by this lecture that he decided that night to go back to base and come back later that evening to bring Amichai his tefillin.

Few weeks later- Amichai and Roey were traveling back to yishuv. So says to Roey, “You really told him not to bring my tefillin?” So he said “Yes.” So Amichai asked, “What do you mean, you’re a halakhic-following Jew?” So Roey answered “Halakha is on a ma’arav- sitting and sleeping in same place –actually prohibited to put on your tefillin.”

Incredible, strong friendship within these 3 officers- bring their mesorah- mesorah of the Jewish people onto the battlefield. July 25th fought in battle of beit-shavil? (spelling) Began at approximately 5 AM when two Israeli companies began advancing down- both Hizbullah and IDF were unaware of each other, one of the IDF soldiers saw them first- but Hizbullah were in higher stories and had a higher view of IDF- initial firefight, 30 members of the Gimmel Company (Amichai’s company) were hit. Major Roey Klein saw that Hizbullah forces had thrown a grenade onto the unit- Roey plunged onto the grenade, sacrificing himself.

The soldiers say that the moment that he jumped, he screamed out “Shema Yisrael.”

Alex was also killed in the exchange of gunfire as he was trying to help his wounded soldiers. 2 additional Golani companies were rushed to help in the evacuation. Asael was one of them- Asael was also an officer with us. Told me about rescue mission- immediately started to pull out dead bodies and wounded- pulling out dead body, fell on his knees in disbelief- was holding our dear friend Amichai.

At his funeral, Moshe Merchavia, Amichai’s father said “Amichai- your grandfather fought for the establishment of Israel. In your merit- in merit of you and those who fight for the land of Israel, we continue to live and prosper in land of Israel.”

(picture in slideshow- hat)

That hat was given to Shmuel Weiss’ brother after Shmuel was killed- given to him by Amichai. And at that moment Shmuel Weiss’ brother placed that hat onto Amichai’s grave- returning it to him.

Here we have Ben-Chalutz- reading Amichai’s book.

Today we remember Roey Klein, Amichai Merchavia, Shimon _____, Idan _____, and more who were killed in fierce fighting on July 25th. Today we remember all soldiers and civilians who were killed in 2nd Lebanon War. Today we remember all heroic soldiers killed in war. Today we remember Professor Libresco- Isareli Holocaust survivor who sacrificed his life to save his students.

Asked father of Amichai if he had a message for YU student body—“Please tell them that we are waiting for them here in Israel. Tell them that this is what Amichai fought for.”

(Everyone sings HaTikvah. Most of us were crying.)


I don't think I have ever been prouder to belong to this school.

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