Sunday, February 23, 2003

Last of the (small) giants.
Today was a busy day at the very large Yarkon Cemetery, which serves Tel Aviv and its satellites. “It’s Sunday,” Someone said, knowingly. I think he meant that all those that had died on Shabbat were being buried. A colleague’s mother had died. It was the first funeral I’d been to since Mum’s and I wondered how I’d feel. I was fine, but I realized that no funeral would ever be the same for me again. I’d always be partly burying Mum. During the actual burial, I found myself surreptitiously examining graves to see how the Hebron stone ages. That’s what we used for Mum’s grave.

Walking along, on the way to the burial site, I saw a group of my co-workers congregating over a fresh grave we were passing. They had noticed that there were an unusual amount of wreaths on it, many with very interesting inscriptions on them, and had stopped to see who it was. It was Isser Harel, mythological founder of Israeli security agencies, the Mossad and the Shabak, and the man most responsible for their reputation. The flowers were still very fresh. The funeral couldn’t have been over long.

We stood there for a moment, in awe. One of my co-workers commented on the fact that such a man had such a humble burial place, but actually it was entirely appropriate. This was obviously not a materialistic man or someone overly concerned with public recognition. During the many years he was one of the strongest men in the country, few ordinary Israelis even knew his name. But don’t be fooled, I remember reading that his subordinates were terrified of him.

His grave was the first in a whole new area, as if in death, as in life, he was staking out new territory. I guess they had to have room for all the people who attended the funeral.

Update: Obituary in the Jerusalem Post:

Seated at a long table in the restaurant was a group of IDF soldiers who seemed to be celebrating a birthday, or perhaps a promotion. I could not help but wonder whether these new guardians of Israel realized that they were in the presence of a legend.

My question was answered when, as we made our way to the door, every soldier at the table rose and reached out to shake the hand of a surprised and genuinely touched Isser Harel.