Remembering Ariel Sharon

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By Alisa Roberts.

Monday, February 10th marked the end of the shloshim for Israel’s former Prime Minister Ariel “Arik” Sharon. Young Israel of North Beverly Hills, together with Mitchabrim, hosted a memorial event for Mr. Sharon, and the community turned out in force to honor him.

The evening began with a video tribute. A filled auditorium watched as images of Mr. Sharon from his youth, military service, and political and family life played above the stage. Then Rabbi Pini Dunner took the stage, standing between American and Israeli flags, and welcomed everyone in Hebrew and in English. “Ariel Sharon was an extraordinary man,” he said. He spoke of his legacy, his hard work, and his engaging personality. “In short,” said Rabbi Dunner, “he was a true leader of men and a hero of Israel.”

The next speaker came from a greater distance. Gilad Sharon, son of the late prime minister, spoke via a live video linkup. Sitting in his kitchen in the Negev, with spices and hanging copper pots visible in the background, he spoke about his memories of his father. “In my opinion, my father was a great father – the best.” He reminisced about the things his father had taught him and the conversations he had had with his grandchildren. He spoke of his father’s difficult and proud moments, of his pride in the land. When asked for his favorite story, he shared how even in the most demanding moments of being Prime Minister he used to call home to ask how many calves and sheep had been born. “His strength didn’t come from the party or the Knesset – it came from the land.” He closed his remarks by noting how many people had loved his father, across political boundaries. He also thanked the community. “I know of the strong relationship my father had with your community, and I’m grateful.”

Raphy Nissel, a close friend of Mr. Sharon, spoke next. He commended his dedication to Israel, calling him the greatest general and statesman since Bar Kochba. “From a young age to his last breath, Ariel Sharon was fighting for Israel.”

Chazan Nati Bar-Am then performed a soulful rendition of the song “Bab-al-Wad,” commemorating the terrible battle of the same name that took place during the 1948 the War of Independence in which Mr. Sharon was gravely wounded. The song was followed by “El Maleh Rahamim.”

The program included speeches by Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel and AIPAC West Coast Director Elliot Brandt, as well as a video tribute from Prime Minister Netanyahu. The Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy Choir also performed, singing a beautiful and moving version of “Lu Yehi,” a song emblematic of the Yom Kippur War.

The evening closed with a prayer for the State of Israel and “Hatikva.”

Rabbi Dunner, who is both the senior rabbi of Young Israel of North Beverly Hills and the West Coast director of Mitchabrim, was not only happy with the event – he was extremely moved. “I found it very meaningful that so many people came. Mr. Sharon has been out of circulation for many years; he didn’t pass away in the prime of his career, and so perhaps he is not at the forefront of peoples’ minds. So it was hard to know how many would come, and the fact that hundreds did was amazing.” He was also grateful to have the participation of Mr. Sharon’s family and close friends. “It made it much more personal and real. It was a personal tribute – not just to a leader and a soldier, but to a friend and family man – which is a much more Jewish way to remember someone.” This holistic approach was part of the design of the evening, with speeches, multimedia, and song blending to not only remember one man but to lift the spirits of those remembering him. “People left uplifted. I think we paid proper tribute to a great Jewish leader.”