Last Friday afternoon at the hushed time before Shabbat as I stood amid the grassy quietude and silent hills of Israel’s national military cemetery on Mt Herzl a gentle autumn wind was blowing over the final resting place of Michael Levin, the only Israeli American Lone Soldier killed in the Second Lebanon War in 2006, a freshly lit candle flickering in a small glass box adjacent to the headstone caught my attention.
Over the many years I have been visiting the holy site of Mt. Herzl, either as a guide for groups or by myself, to pay my respects at Michael’s final resting place, together with my fallen brothers-in-arms, who will remain nineteen forever, and to all those heroic men and women who paid the ultimate price so we may live in a free and independent Jewish homeland I have rarely been moved to such profound emotion. Part of this is due to the very close friendship I am honoured to have with Michael’s parents, Harriet and Mark Levin.
In a conversation with Harriet she recalled how “Mikey” did what she always wanted to do and never did. He made Aliyah to Israel and enlisted in the IDF. Harriet said, “I always dreamed of doing more for my country, of coming and volunteering. After all, it’s the easiest thing live in a big, beautiful house in the United States and to write a check for a pro-Israel organisation every once in a while,” she explained. “I wanted to give a lot more, but I didn’t think I’d give so much, that I’d give my son.”
Harriet told me that every year on Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) the family stands by the grave for hours and people come up to them and comfort them and say things like: “I’m going to the army because of Michael.” “I’m making Aliyah because of Michael.” “I’m going to live a more meaningful life because of Michael.” Because of Michael people have come to learn about and respect lone soldiers.
She mentioned that on the first anniversary of Michael’s death she and Mark were at the grave of their only son on Mt. Herzl and an Israeli woman was lighting a candle at the grave of her son who was buried four plots away from Michael. The woman heard them speaking English and approached them. The woman introduced both herself and her husband, Rabbi Eitan and Leah Eisemann. After hearing that they only get to visit their son’s final resting place once or twice a year Leah volunteered to light a candle at his grave every Friday, together with the candle she lights for her son Tzvi. Harriet told me that since that moment the same righteous woman has been lighting a candle by Michael’s grave every Friday and phoning the Levin family in the States. This is true kindness. Sometimes it is the small things in life that make a huge impact, such as lighting a candle on a grave.