The Dead Come First for Us

It is very important to bring a soldier's body to burial in Israel, but the lives of other soldiers must not be endangered - it is much more important to bring a soldier back alive to his parent's home.

On the day of the "great strike," I heard a news report on the radio about three El Al planes circling the skies over Israel, waiting for permission to land. However, this permission was not forthcoming and the planes were forced to land in Cyprus. This was, indeed, an important news item, worthy of leading the broadcast. But this was not the whole story. "On one of the planes, there were found to be..." the broadcaster continued dramatically. My heart skipped a beat. Who knows who or what was found there? "... two coffins."

I'm embarrassed to say that I let out a sigh of relief. First of all, the deceased, compared to the other passengers, are not particularly impatient. Second, whatever might happen, the deceased cannot die. And third, even if the planes land at Ben-Gurion International Airport, there will not be anyone to lift their coffins and bury them because the gravediggers are on strike.

The rest of the media followed the radio station's lead: The coffins bearing the dead took center stage. Thousands of people are stuck between heaven and earth, including sick people, pregnant women, exhausted elderly people, small children and babies. But the dead are of primary concern to us and who will fight for their honor if not the compassionate media.

There is not a lot of honor and concern for the living here, perhaps because we reserve all of our respect for the dead. Still etched in my memory is the "photograph of the year" - soldiers crawling on their bellies to collect the bodily remains of their friends after the terrible tragedy in Rafah.

There is a reason the Israel Defense Forces has always committed itself to not abandoning injured soldiers in the field - injured soldiers, not dead ones. This is because all of the body parts cannot measure up to one live soldier. It is very important to bring a soldier's body to burial in Israel, but the lives of other soldiers must not be endangered - it is much more important to bring a soldier back alive to his parent's home.

Few parents have the strength and nobility to offer to forgo retrieving their son's body in order to save the lives of other soldiers. One of the parents of the soldiers killed in Rafah exhibited this nobility. Batya Arad, the mother of Ron Arad, acted in the same spirit when she stipulated before her death that murderers should not be released in a prisoner exchange if it turns out that Ron is dead and only his body would be returned.

This miserable country is awash with the rites of death. Ancient and new graves constitute the basic guidelines for the fateful decisions made here. Most of these graves are actually imaginary ones, with no connection to historical facts. Nonetheless, we are ready to die for them and even the road map for the near future insists on being charted according to a map of graves from the distant past.

Not only are more and more bewildered citizens prostrating themselves upon the graves of revered rabbis. An entire country, including its leaders, are prostrating themselves upon them. And with this rise in the demand, it should come as no surprise that the supply is also expanding. There are now more graves of holy men than ever before, even if they themselves didn't realize they were holy men until we threw ourselves upon their empty graves. They didn't know, but Madonna knows.

We ask for favors from the dead, but don't always accord them a final kindness. We expect salvation and comfort from the dead, but they would do well not to expect too much from the living: Five large banks, led by Bank Leumi, are now waging a determined battle to avoid paying Holocaust victims and their heirs what they deserve from sums deposited long ago.

If this ugly battle continues, there will no longer be anyone left to pay. The living expect the dead to protect them from above, to secure their livelihood, good health, a spouse, children - but if they have a deposit down here at Bank Leumi, then they should forget about it. All of the banks and insurance companies in the world have already quietly paid out huge sums for the missing and dormant accounts. They didn't argue because they didn't want to get into a quarrel with the Jews throughout the world. But it is only permissible for Jews to be Shylocks, because who would dare accuse them of anti-Semitism?

Therefore, it is permissible for the banks and their auxiliaries, in the government and the Knesset, to take the name of the victims in vain - as long as this remains in the realm of historical accounts and doesn't spill over into our bank accounts.