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I grieved at a funeral in Israel this week. But not for too long — another was about to start.

JERUSALEM (JTA) — When I arrived Wednesday night at the funeral of an Israeli soldier who was killed Sunday battling Hamas terrorists in southern Israel, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d find.

Israel’s Home Front Command had issued orders against gatherings of more than 50 people, and this funeral was scheduled for 8:30 p.m. But when I arrived at the Mount Herzl national military cemetery in Jerusalem, several hundred people already were gathered at the open gravesite, and more were streaming in.

The funeral was for Yosef Malachi Guedalia, a ­­­22-year-old sergeant-major from the Israeli Defense Forces’ elite Duvdevan combat unit. The son of immigrants to Israel from the United States, Guedalia lived in Beit Shemesh and was only about five months short of completing his mandatory military service. 

I came to the funeral because I knew Guedalia’s wife, a native of Boston who’d immigrated to Israel a few years ago and whose uncle is one of my closest friends. The couple had celebrated their first wedding anniversary just a few days earlier; now his 23-year-old wife was a war widow.

In Israel, funerals take place at all hours, including at night, to comply with the Jewish injunction to bury the dead as quickly as possible. In this war it’s also a practical necessity: There aren’t enough daylight hours to bury all the dead in a week when the death toll already has exceeded 1,300. 

As the minutes ticked by, the crowd of friends, relatives, soldiers and strangers who came to pay their respects stood with uncharacteristic silence for a country where everyone is always shouting or babbling about one thing or another. For several minutes, I could hear crickets in the cool Jerusalem night. When someone started humming a well-known song taken from the prayers recited when rolling a Torah scroll before its return to the holy ark, hundreds joined in in a subdued tone: 

“Our brothers of the entire House of Israel, who are in distress and in captivity, whether on sea or on land, may God have compassion on them and bring them out from trouble to safety, from darkness to light, from bondage to redemption — now, swiftly and soon, and let us say Amen.” 

An organizer got on the microphone and explained that in the event of an air raid siren warning of an incoming rocket attack, everyone was to lay down on the ground between the gravestones and cover their heads with their hands. 

Mourners gather at the funeral of Yosef Geudalia in Jerusalem, Oct. 11, 2023. Guedalia was killed
responding to Hamas’ attack on Israel. (Uriel Heilman)

Guedalia’s family arrived trailing a plain coffin draped in an Israeli flag. Most Israelis are buried just in shrouds, in keeping with the Jewish custom that the dead be laid to rest without anything suggesting differences in status or wealth and in a manner that puts as little physical material as possible between them and the earth. Israeli soldiers who fall in service, however, are always buried in coffins. This obscures the state of the deceased’s body — a necessity given the violent deaths soldiers suffer. 

After Guedalia’s coffin was lowered into the ground and covered with earth, family members offered eulogies in a mix of Hebrew and English, interweaving their remarks with biblical quotes. Guedalia was religious, and his wife spoke about how they studied Torah together every Shabbat. His siblings talked of his sweet nature, his athletic prowess, his diligent commitment to Torah, his love for his family and his dedication to being a great soldier.

One of Yosef’s brothers is also a soldier; he, too, was rushed into combat this week after Saturday’s attacks and learned of his brother’s killing while fighting in southern Israel near Gaza. 

“Od Yosef chai!” he cried out in his eulogy, quoting the exclamation the forefather Jacob shouted when he heard that his son Joseph was alive after having been missing for 22 years: “Joseph still lives!” But for this Yosef felled by Hamas terrorists, 22 years would constitute the entire duration of his life, his brother wailed. There didn’t appear to be a dry eye among the mourners. 

The last remarks before the gun salute marking the end of the service were delivered by a rabbinic representative of the Israeli Defense Forces, who in keeping with tradition offered a prayer asking forgiveness of the dead. 

“In the name of the military rabbinate, the chevra kadisha [burial society] and your relatives, your commanders, your fellows, and your friends that gathered her to pay their final respects, I ask for your forgiveness and pardon. Everything that was done we did to honor you in accordance with the traditions of Israel and the customs of our holy land. Rest in peace and receive your eternal destiny. And may we and all of Israel have life and peace forever, Amen.” 

Three series of gunshots rang out, and the funeral was over. The crowd began to disperse, and among them I spotted a few newly injured soldiers — wearing casts, on crutches, in a wheelchair. Comrades in uniform helped escort them over the uneven stones to the street, helping them navigate between cars parked all over the sidewalks and in front of bus stops. Volunteers manning a table at the cemetery entrance offered passersby snacks and drinks. A hasty evening prayer minyan commenced.

It was past 10:30 p.m. but Guedalia’s was not the last funeral of the night. As the mourners shuffled out, organizers asked the crowd to please hurry because another family had been waiting for over 20 minutes. 

It was time for the next funeral to begin.

The post I grieved at a funeral in Israel this week. But not for too long — another was about to start. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Biden Highlights US Commitment to Israel, Ukraine, Indo-Pacific in West Point Speech

West Point graduating cadets congratulate each other at the conclusion of commencement ceremonies in West Point, New York, U.S., May 25, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Tom Brenner

President Joe Biden emphasized the critical role of U.S. support to allies around the world including Israel, Ukraine and the Indo-Pacific in a speech on Saturday at the commencement for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

The speech before 1,036 graduating U.S. Army cadets is part of a push by Biden to highlight the administration’s efforts to support active and retired military personnel. These include a bipartisan law he signed two years ago to help veterans who have been exposed to burn pits or other poisons obtain easier access to healthcare.

Biden described American soldiers as “working around the clock” to support Ukraine in its effort to repel a two-year long Russian invasion, but repeated his commitment to keeping them off the front lines.

“We are standing strong with Ukraine and we will stand with them,” Biden told the crowd to a round of applause.

He also highlighted the U.S. role in repelling Iranian missile attacks against Israel and support for allies in the Indo-Pacific against increasing Chinese militarism in the region.

“Thanks to the U.S. Armed Forces, we’re doing what only America can do as the indispensable nation, the world’s only superpower,” Biden said.

The president is scheduled to participate in Memorial Day services at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Monday. A week later, he will travel to Normandy, France, to participate in ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

Biden is expected to give a major speech about the heroism of Allied forces in World War Two and the continuing threats to democracy today.

As vice president, he twice addressed a graduating class of cadets at the academy about 40 miles (64 km) north of New York City, but this was the first time as president.

Donald Trump, Biden’s Republican challenger in the 2024 election, was the last president to speak at a West Point commencement, in 2020.

College campuses nationwide have erupted in sometimes-violent protests over Biden’s support for Israel’s war against Hamas following the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack. Students have used commencement speeches at universities such as Harvard, Duke and Yale to protest Biden’s actions.

Earlier this month, the Democratic president gave the commencement speech at Morehouse College, a historically Black men’s college, where protests were sparse.

The military academy was founded in 1802 by President Thomas Jefferson to train Army officers and has produced some of the United States’ greatest generals, including two who went on to become president.

Trump has seen some of his support from the military community erode.

In 2016, he won 60% of voters who said at the time that they served in the military, according to exit polls conducted by NBC News. That figure dropped to 54% in 2020, according to NBC News.

In 2020, Biden won 44% of voters who said they served in the military, according to the data.

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World Court’s Order on Rafah Does Not Rule Out Entire Offensive, Israel Says

Some rises after an Israeli strike as Israeli forces launch a ground and air operation in the eastern part of Rafah, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 7, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Hatem Khaled

Israel considers that an order by the World Court to halt its military offensive on Rafah in southern Gaza allows room for some military action there, Israeli officials said.

In an emergency ruling in South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide, judges at the International Court of Justice ordered Israel on Friday to immediately halt its assault on Rafah, where Israel says it is rooting out Hamas fighters.

“What they are asking us, is not to commit genocide in Rafah. We did not commit genocide and we will not commit genocide,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, told Israel’s N12 TV on Saturday.

Asked whether the Rafah offensive would continue, Hanegbi said: “According to international law, we have the right to defend ourselves and the evidence is that the court is not preventing us from continuing to defend ourselves.”

The ICJ, which is based in The Hague, did not immediately comment on Hanegbi’s remarks. Hamas also did not immediately comment.

Another Israeli official pointed to the phrasing of the ruling by the ICJ, or World Court, depicting it as conditional.

“The order in regard to the Rafah operation is not a general order,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Reading out the ruling, the ICJ’s president, Nawaf Salam, said the situation in Gaza had deteriorated since the court last ordered Israel to take steps to improve it, and conditions had been met for a new emergency order.

“The state of Israel shall (…) immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” Salam said.

That wording does not rule out all military action, the Israeli official said.

“We have never, and we will not, conduct any military action in Rafah or elsewhere which may inflict any conditions of life to bring about the destruction of the civilian population in Gaza, not in whole and not in part,” the official said.

The ICJ has no means to enforce its orders.

Israel began its offensive in Gaza to try to eliminate Hamas after Hamas-led terrorists stormed into southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7 last year, killing 1,200 people and taking more than 250 others as hostages. It has pressed on with its offensive since the ICJ ruling.

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ICC Chief Prosecutor Denies Equating Israel with Hamas

Defense Counsel for Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto, Karim Khan attends a news conference before the trial of Ruto and Joshua arap Sang at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague September 9, 2013. Photo: REUTERS/Michael Kooren/File Photo

i24 NewsIn an interview with The Sunday Times, International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Karim Khan has firmly dismissed accusations that he equates the actions of Israel with those of Hamas, labeling such claims as “nonsense.”

This marks Khan’s first major interview since announcing his intent to request arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders.

Khan clarified his stance, emphasizing that he does not consider Israel, with its democratic framework and supreme court, comparable to the terrorist group Hamas.

“I am not saying that Israel with its democracy and its supreme court is akin to Hamas, of course not. I couldn’t be clearer, Israel has every right to protect its population and to get the hostages back. But nobody has a license to commit war crimes or crimes against humanity. The means define us,” Khan stated.

In response to an Israeli official’s inquiry about locating hostages, Khan drew a parallel with the UK’s handling of the IRA.

He referenced various terrorist incidents involving the IRA, including assassination attempts and bombings, noting that despite these, the British did not resort to indiscriminate bombing in populated areas known for IRA activity. “You can’t do that,” Khan asserted.

Khan also shared his personal commitment to the issue of hostages, revealing that he wears a blue wristband with “Bring Them Home” inscribed on it and carries a dog tag dedicated to Kfir Bibas, the youngest hostage at nine months old.

“This would break anyone’s heart,” he remarked. “There are Palestinian babies dying and we cannot have double standards.”

Addressing the potential issuance of arrest warrants, Khan stressed the global community’s responsibility to enforce them. “If states don’t step up, it has massive implications,” he warned.

“The ICC is their child — I am just the nanny or hired help. They have a choice to look after this child or be responsible for its abandonment.”

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