During this period of the Jewish calendar, a time of mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem and a recollection of tragedy that has befallen the Jewish period, our mindsets are firmly focussed on the unique experience of Jewish bereavement. Jewish people bring together an almost indescribable blend of grief and hope. We channel this energy into understanding our uniqueness and our destiny as a nation.
Today the Jewish world is in mourning. For the terrorism directed against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. One of the Jewish world’s greatest contemporary Rabbinic authorities has also passed away in Jerusalem, which instantly brought quarter of a million people onto the streets of Jerusalem for his levaya (funeral).
With permission from the author, a prominent and highly respected member of the Perth Jewish community who is currently in Jerusalem, we post an account of the funeral of Rav Elyashiv. This firsthand and emotive account of the lavaya indeed demonstrates the unique qualities of the Jewish people, and the resilience of the transmission of Jewish tradition from generation to generation.
It’s 3 am and from the window of my brother’s flat I can see both lanes of Highway One to Tel Aviv chock a block with traffic leaving the city after the funeral of Rabbi Elyashiv. Horns are tooting, cars are pushing, people are walking on the road and police sirens are sounding — it could be the middle of the day not the middle of the night. As much of the traffic consists of what seems like hundreds of the charter buses which were organised in record time to bring people here from all over the country it’s not surprising that initial estimates are that there were 100,000 people at the funeral.
Roads leading into Jerusalem are clogged with traffic with reports that some drivers have left their cars on the side of the road opting instead to walk into town so as to be able to attend the funeral.
After the Rabbi’s death late in the afternoon it didn’t take long for my brother and me to learn from the many mobile town criers, as I call them, who are a feature of the religious suburbs of this city that the route of the procession to Har HaMenuchot Cemetery in Givat Shaul would pass below our window. Travelling the streets in cars equipped with powerful loudspeakers these modern day media moguls disseminate news quickly, efficiently and at loud volume. Last week one advertised a demonstration against the proposed national service laws by creatively putting his message to music. Listening to his message I thought I knew the tune from somewhere and after a while it came to me, it was Avinu Malcheinu.
Powerful advertising indeed and a reminder that Yom Kippur is not that far away.
Though the funeral procession left Rabbi Elyashiv’s home in Mea Shearim at 10 pm last night — by the way he and his wife brought up twelve children in their tiny two bedroom flat — it wasn’t until 1.30 am this morning that it finally passed on Highway One below us. If you can imagine 100,000 people (that’s more than the MCG holds for the AFL Grand Final) walking quietly at night from Mt Lawley to a funeral at Karrakatta you’ll get some idea of what we gazed upon — truly an amazing scene.
As you have read, burial is permitted at night in Jerusalem. The story told me is that this custom originated in the times when Jerusalem was totally contained within city walls. On the occasions that it was under siege it was necessary after a day’s battle to call a halt to proceedings and remove the dead for interment outside the city. Hence, burial at night.
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was born in Lithuania and came to Israel as a young child. He died at the age of 101, or maybe it was 102, and was recognised by all shades of the religious spectrum as not only being what is termed Gadol HaDor (one of the greats of the generation) but also as being what is termed Posek HaDor (one of the great Halachik decisors of the generation)
His funeral procession was in complete contrast to another event we had watched a week earlier from the same windows — a Hachnasat Sefer Torah, the bringing of a new Torah to a Shule in the Givat Shaul neighbourhood. The streets then were also blocked by wall to wall black but the atmosphere on that occasion was created by music, dancing and singing. The Simcha (happiness) of those accompanying the Torah scroll struck me (not a person known for his dancing ability) by its intensity, its sincerity and by the fact that everyone participated — even the drivers of the cars who were forced to stop seemed to be part of the Simcha.
Shabbat Shalom to all.