The Jerusalem Post, October 6, 2002
THE NEVER-ENDING STORY
By Stewart Weiss
In eulogizing his son, Ari Yehoshua, who was killed last week in Shehem, Rabbi Stewart Weiss asked that all assembled return home and sing "Am Yisrael Hai." The following column appeared in The Jerusalem Post on April 19, 1996.
You might walk past it a thousand times even tread directly upon it and yet you would probably never take note of it. Amid the silent hills and grassy quietude of Mt. Herzl, a gentle spring wind blows over the grave of one Baruch Shapiro. Barely an echo of his name remains.
But the story of Baruch Shapiro, now itself buried by the years, begs to be retold. For his story mirrors the struggle of a whole people, encapsulating what it means to live and die as a proud Jew in the modern State of Israel.
Baruch was the last remaining son of Chaim Shapiro, native of Cracow and survivor of Auschwitz. By a combination of faith, strength, and luck, Chaim lived through the unspeakable hell of the death camp, emerging from it along with his son Baruch.
Chaim's wife and five other sons were less fortunate. They perished together with the multitudes of Jews we now refer to as the Six Million.
In a pitiful state, confused and shattered, father and son came here, along with thousands of other remnants of the ovens, to build a new life and restore hope. But their dream of piecing together a new beginning would have to be delayed.
Arriving on the shores of Palestine, young Baruch now 18 years old was handed a gun and a uniform, and drafted into what would become the Israel Defense Forces. There were those who planned to finish what the Nazis had begun, and a new war was about to erupt.
Chaim watched his son go off to war along with the other young men, and he tried to put his fears and foreboding out of his mind, busying himself with the difficult task of hewing out a place in the gritty new country now battling for its first breaths of air.
It was in the latter stages of the War of Independence that Baruch Shapiro fell, on the road to Jerusalem, defending the capital. He had distinguished himself throughout the war, and died guarding his post from enemy advance.
When a young captain informed Chaim of the death of his son, the father uttered not a word. He simply nodded silently and folded the official notification over and over in his hand.
Many hundreds of friends and comrades came to Baruch's funeral. The chief of staff was also there, for he had heard of the young man's distinguished service in his unit.
An overwhelming sense of loss pervaded the day, for those assembled knew of the unique circumstances of the Shapiro family and wished to demonstrate their solidarity with the aging father whose family line had come to a sudden, tragic end.
DURING THE brief ceremony, Chaim remained silent. He listened impassively as the appropriate Psalms and prayers were recited and as Baruch's commanding officer eulogized him as an exemplary soldier.
But when the flag-draped body was lowered into the grave, Chaim Shapiro suddenly began to sing, quietly at first, then more loudly.
He sang "Am Yisrael Hai" over and over. Then he began to dance, grabbing some of Baruch's friends and pulling them into a Hora.
The crowd looked on in horror, sure the father had lost his mind. Clearly the enormity of the loss of his last remaining child had finally pushed him over the brink.
Those standing closest to Chaim tried to calm him down, to console him. The chief of staff put his arms around him and urged him to sit down. But Chaim pushed the general away, and carried on singing and dancing.
After several minutes, the elderly man turned to the crowd and began to speak: "I am sure you think I have gone quite mad," he began.
"But I can assure you that I am in complete control of my faculties. I know you think it outrageous that I should sing at my boy's burial, but I want to explain why nothing could be more appropriate.
The crowd stood mesmerized. "You see," the father went on, "when the rest of my family were murdered in Poland by the Germans, their lives ended in silence. They vanished, in the wink of an eye. They were snuffed out like candles, and no one saw or heard. No one took notice of who they were, what they had done, or what their lives had meant.
"To live and die in Poland was an empty and barren experience, containing only sadness and regret. It was a waste of precious life.
"But this son," Chaim continued, pointing at the grave, "this son is different. Baruch lived to walk upon the holy earth of Eretz Yisrael, and he died defending Jerusalem Jerusalem! a place we never dreamed we would see in our lifetimes. Baruch gave his life for all the people of Israel, so they could be free, and safe, and independent.
"That is not the waste of a life. It is the celebration of a life and that is why I sing today, as I say shalom to my son. And that is why all of you should sing with me."
With that Chaim Shapiro began to sing "Am Yisrael Hai" once more, and the assembled throng began to join in, until every voice in the cemetery was raised in a surrealistic song of sadness and joy, the tears of each emotion mingled on every face.
For a long time they sang thus together, until the hills of Jerusalem themselves seemed to be joining in the chorus.
You might walk past the grave of Baruch Shapiro a thousand times even tread directly upon it and probably take no notice. A gentle wind blows on the grave, and the story of Baruch Shapiro is no more than a fading memory, a distant echo.
But the epic story of the Jewish people goes on, unabated. It is a story written in the blood of our young men and women, on pages of pain and heroism, engraved in stone with quills of iron will.
That story describes a profound stoicism and suffering, one that that cannot be contained. It must inevitably burst out into song and dance, until we all affirm: Am Yisrael Hai.
(c) 2002 The Jerusalem Post