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‘Comfort My People’

March 11, 2024

by: Rebecca Brimmer, International President

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Blindfolded teddy bears marred with blood stains placed at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv represent the 30 children who were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists on October 7.

Isaiah’s famous words, “Comfort, yes, comfort My people” (40:1), resounds in my heart. So many families in Israel are in deep mourning following the massacre on October 7 when Hamas terrorists murdered 1,200 people. Moreover, soldiers are continuing to fall in the ensuing war against Hamas on a nearly daily basis. The words from Isaiah 40:1 has become my daily prayer. It is also one of the motivations of our team of Bridges for Peace volunteers in Israel. On October 7, more Jews were killed than at any other time since the Holocaust. The entire nation is traumatized, and most families have lost someone dear to them.


In Israel, burials take place quickly, usually within 24 hours. Judaism entails a belief in the resurrection and thus forbids embalming and cremation, thus leaving the bodies intact.

Amazingly, the news of a death spreads quickly and people drop everything to be part of the funeral procession. In fact, participation is considered an important mitzvah (good deed). Typically, hundreds or in some cases even thousands of people gather. When Rabbi Ovadia Yosef died, 700,000 people converged on Jerusalem to accompany him to his burial.

I am always astonished to see how people join the funeral procession for a lone soldier, a Jewish person who moved to Israel without his or her family to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. British-born Netan’el Young died defending Israel far from his country of birth and family. Famous author Daniel Gordis was one of thousands of Israelis who received a WhatsApp message asking them to attend Young’s burial. It was a simple message, identifying Young as a lone soldier and giving the time and place of the funeral. Although Daniel and his wife didn’t know Netan’el, they were two of the hundreds of other Israelis who showed up at the funeral of someone they had never met. The fact that they did so during a dangerous time while rockets were being fired on Israeli towns and cities is all the more astonishing. During the funeral, the air raid sirens did indeed sound, and everyone standing around the open grave was forced to fall to the ground for safety. As soon as the all clear came, they proceeded with the funeral.

Jewish funerals are humble and simple. Most Jewish people in Israel are not buried in caskets but in shrouds. The deceased is brought on a board wrapped in a cloth shroud and then lowered by family or friends into the newly dug grave. In death there are no rich or poor. One exception is the death of soldiers, who are buried in simple wood coffins with holes in the bottom. The Torah [Gen.–Deut.] teaches, “…Till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19b). This method of burial makes the connection between the person and the dust of the earth.

After prayers and Psalms are said, the family members pick up shovels and fill in the grave. It is their last act of love and mercy for their departed loved one.

After October 7

The massacre of October 7 was so horrific that it was difficult to identify bodies. Family members were asked to bring DNA for their missing loved ones to help in the identification process. Many funerals were delayed by weeks. Some of the missing were later added to the hostage list, and some originally thought to be hostages were eventually proved to have died. The pain and suffering of the nation of Israel is incomprehensible. Israel has changed forever. The Israelis have become a nation in mourning.

Memorial Practices

Soldiers grieve for a fallen friend.

After the funeral, the family sits shivah, a seven-day period of mourning. During this time, they remain at home while friends, family, acquaintances and even perfect strangers will come over, bringing food and sharing fond memories of their loved one. They will sit with the family and try to fulfill the ancient words of the prophet Isaiah, “Comfort, yes, comfort My people” (40:1).

On the 30th day, the family will again gather for a memorial time. Then, on the anniversary of the death, the yartzeit (a Yiddish word meaning year) is honored by saying the Kaddish prayer in the synagogue and lighting a 24-hour memorial candle.

Kaddish is called a mourner’s prayer, and is a beautiful affirmation of the goodness of God. “May His great name be blessed, forever and ever. Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honored, elevated and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, blessed is He—above and beyond any blessings and hymns, praises and consolations which are uttered in the world, and say amen.”

Family and friends will then continue to say Kaddish for their loved one on every yartzeit. October 7 will forever be a day when Israel stops to say Kaddish.

Memorial Day in Israel

Struggle always comes before victory. Israel recognizes this every year on Yom HaZikaron or Memorial Day. It is commemorated the day before Yom HaAtzma’ut or Independence Day. Yom HaZikaron is a day of tremendous nationwide sorrow. It conveys the message that Israel owes its independence to soldiers who sacrificed their lives for its existence. On this day, Israel mourns the fallen in the fight for her independence and also those who were killed in terrorist attacks. A two-minute siren sounds twice, once in the evening and again in the morning. People stop in their tracks in silent honor of those who died in service of the country.

On Yom HaZikaron in 2023, 24,213 had fallen in defense of Israel, with 4,255 victims of hostile acts. This year, Yom HaZikaron will be observed from the evening of May 12, until the following day at sunset. Tragically, this year’s number will be much higher. The cemeteries will be full, and in every village, town and city, people will gather to mourn as a nation. May we live to see the words of the prophet Jeremiah fulfilled, “…For I will turn their mourning to joy, will comfort them, and make them rejoice rather than sorrow” (Jer. 31:13).

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