Opinion: One day in Israel. Vigil, funeral, rocket, wedding, vigil.

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Opinion: One day in Israel. Vigil, funeral, rocket, wedding, vigil.

A day "which will remain with me for a long time". Michael Wegier, chief executive, Board of Deputies of British Jews gives a surreal snapshot of Monday October 9.

Pic: Sky News
Pic: Sky News

I arrived in Israel last Friday for a week of meetings and family and after a glorious Shabbat dinner with my family, I woke up near Jerusalem on Saturday morning and quickly became aware of the unfolding tragedy.  I have remained in Israel all week and this is a snapshot of my activities on Monday October 9, which will remain with me for a long time.

Monday morning – Vigil Preparation

The morning began at 6:00 am after just four hours sleep and I continued on from the long evening/night before as I worked intensively with colleagues from JLC, CST, UJIA and BICOM to plan our response to the appalling situation. Most my time was spent on-line with our Board of Deputies staff and Honorary Officers as well as communal colleagues making urgent plans for the evening vigil opposite Downing Street which the BoD would co-host with the JLC with extremely wide communal support. Simultaneously I was scanning the newsfeeds learning more about the horrors of the previous 48 hours and I also dealt with dozens of texts, calls and emails.

Monday afternoon (1) – Funeral

I went to the Mount Herzl Military cemetery to attend the funeral of Nathanel Young, a lone soldier, originally from North London who tragically was killed on Shabbat. His family were concerned that there would not be a large attendance and so calls went out on Social Media asking people to attend. I went with my sister who knows the family and we were stunned to see hundreds of people who had no connection with Nathanel just show up to ensure his family were comforted. The Hespedim (funeral orations) were delivered in Hebrew, English and French and were profoundly moving. This was a much loved, and loving young man whose passion for Israel is deeply inspirational. May his memory be a blessing.

Monday afternoon (2) – Rocket

Leaving the funeral a little early, (see below), we were driving on Herzl Blvd in West Jerusalem when we heard a siren. Following the guidelines, all the cars around us stopped in the street, we abandoned them and ran for shelter in a warehouse which was opened up within seconds. There we waited anxiously to see and hear what would happen. We heard various booms which we later learnt was both rockets that landed and also the impact of Iron Dome taking some out. When the siren ended we ran back to the car and headed to…Afula.

Monday evening  (1) – Wedding

One reason I came to Israel was for a cousin’s wedding long planned for Monday night. According to many traditions, it is not custom to postpone a wedding, but of course the evening could not go ahead as planned. The big party was cancelled and the chuppah was held at a small Chabad centre in Afula.

About 50 family members attended (tiny for Israel where 500 guests is not unusual). The chuppa was followed by a ‘Seudat Mitzva” (commanded meal) and then the Sheva Brachot blessings at the end of Grace after Meals. Several of the young family members present (including my cousins) had been called up to reserve duty and were only allowed out briefly to attend their sibling’s marriage. The groom too is a serving career soldier. I cannot remember a more moving and poignant wedding and coming just a few hours after the funeral, the contrast was extraordinary.

Monday Evening (2) -Vigil

While driving to Afula (in fact the whole day), I was involved with ensuring the Downing Street Vigil was on track. As the chuppah ended I began getting pictures and video clips. I had a lump in my throat from both the wedding and the amazing scenes from London.

Monday Night – The drive back

I drove back to Jerusalem and it was actually good not to look at my messages or see the news. For 90 minutes I cleared my head. But once back, I scrolled through newsfeeds and dozens of messages of thanks (and the odd complaint) about the vigil. I fell asleep with my phone in my hand at about 1:30 am.

Today, Tuesday I was able to donate blood at an MDA centre and to consider that in these awful times, which are by no means over, our role as British Jews is to find any way that we can to help make the lives of Israelis more bearable. The time for political analysis and existential reflection will soon come but for now, just find any way you can to help. Connect with Israeli family and friends, send money, act responsibly on social media and support your family and friends working here for the Jewish community.

  • Michael Wegier is chief executive, Board of Deputies of British Jews
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