And the Angels Wept….

Upon waking and checking the e-mail this morning at 6:30am I was stunned to learn of the death of First Sergeant Yoseph Yitzach Goodman z’l (Yoseph Yitzach ben Chanah v’Mordechai). We know Yoseph’s parents and Romi teaches two of his siblings in Efrat, so when I told Romi she was quite shaken. Our plans for the day were immediately shelved and we headed off to the funeral in Efrat.

Yoseph, 20, was killed in a tragic training accident when his parachute became entangled with that of another paratrooper. Yoseph was unable to release his emergency chute and fell to his death (see article in the Jerusalem Post). Yoseph was a member of an elite paratrooper unit and it was clear from the outpouring at his funeral that he was loved by all.

We arrived at the shul in Efrat which was full to well beyond capacity; however, like the Beit haMikdash during festivals, the shul seemed to miraculously expand to ensure that there was space for everyone. The members of Yoseph’s unit entered and took up positions lining the wall of the bimah (pulpit) at the front of the shul. The site of these young men (most look more like boys) stoically standing there as they mourned the loss of their friend and colleague brought tears to my eyes.

Yoseph’s parents are among the earlier families to settle in Efrat and they own the local pizza place. We first met his mom a month or two after we made Aliyah when we were eating at their restaurant and she took the time to come over to chat with us. Some of you may recall the story of a nice woman making Romi a ‘glossary’ of Hebrew terms that she may need during labor and delivery (being the mother of 9 she had quite a bit of experience in that department)–well, the woman was none other than Ann Goodman.

We later met Mordechai Goodman, Yoseph’s father, in ulpan in Gush Etzion. Mordechai is a bit of local legend for his athletic exploits in the American Football League here in Jerusalem and for being ‘the Pizza Guy’ in Efrat. After being in Israel for over 20 years Mordechai had re-enrolled in ulpan to work on his Hebrew and it was a pleasure having him in class and being exposed to his unique view of the world.

Mordechai and Ann spoke beautifully at the funeral in shul. Mordechai spoke of the time when Yoseph was 3 or 4 and some kids came to tell Mordechai that he was in a field collecting rocks in a bucket. When Mordechai approached him to ask just what he was doing, he simply replied, ‘I heard that the Arabs are throwing rocks at Jewish cars so I am collecting rocks and we are going to go throw rocks at Arab cars’. Yoseph’s leadership, dedication and love for Am Yisrael were apparent at an early age and it took some doing for Mordechai to explain to him that is not how they were going to handle the situation. Mordechai then went on to ask the question that all parents who lose a child must ask of HaShem…why couldn’t I have the choice to give my life and let me son live? The question brought the heretofore quiet sniffling to grow to loud sobs from around the room.

Ann’s speech was unbelievably touching. She said that she wanted to say only three things. 1) She loved Yoseph and he was all that a mother could ask for in a child. 2) She thanked Hashem for giving her 20 beautiful years with her boy. 3) She asked Yoseph for forgiveness for anything that she had done wrong to him in those 20 years.

After the eulogies were complete, the entire assembly followed the Goodman family out to the truck where the simple coffin sat draped in the blue and white of the Israeli flag in the back of a military transport truck. As Mordechai loudly and clearly recited the Kaddish it started to slowly drizzle and thousands of people silently walked behind the truck, escorting Yoseph out of Efrat. The prossesional continued via car to the military cemetery at Har Herzl, the final resting place of Israel’s heroes. As we slowly continued on to Har Herzl, the rains strengthened and were mixed with hail and ice as we all ascended the mountain through the rain and mud. It appeared that all of the 1500-2000 people who were at the funeral in Efrat had continued on to the burial at Har Herzl and were joined by hundreds of clean cut young men and women of the paratroopers in their maroon berets and brown boots.

Brig. General Elazar Stern, head of military manpower, spoke beautifully, Mordechai again recited Kaddish and then we were shaken as the military rites of the 21 gun salute broke the silence of the assembled mourners.

The scenes we saw today are something we hope to never have to see again, but the warmth and love expressed by an entire community was something to behold as we said goodbye to a special young man–a loving son, a respected big brother and friend and a hero of Israel.

May we only know simchas.

Shabbat Shalom

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