A few months ago, my friend and I agreed to meet at the garden where 29th meets 35th. Sounds like we were meeting in Manhattan to catch a sporting event at Madison Square Garden. Better than that, we were getting together in the center of Jerusalem.
In the beautiful neighborhood of Old Katamon, Kaf Tet B’November (The 29th of November) is a charming street named in honor of the date when the United Nations General Assembly approved the partition plan and the creation of the Jewish State. A few months later, on May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed, with Ben Gurion reading its Declaration of Independence. Steps from this street is Lindsay Garden, named in honor of John Lindsay, the mayor of New York City from 1966 to 1973.
Across the street from Lindsay Garden is Rechov Halamed Hei, named in memory of the 35 Haganah soldiers (Lamed Hei is 35 in Hebrew) who, in January 1948 during the War of Independence, set out by foot to bring reinforcements to the blockaded kibbutzim of Gush Etzion after earlier motorized convoys had failed in their attempts to deliver supplies. These soldiers fell to an Arab ambush as they neared Gush Etzion. Gush Etzion subsequently fell on the day the State of Israel was declared, not to be liberated until the Six Day War in 1967.
In 1951, the bodies of the 35 soldiers were returned to Israel but only 23 could be identified. To solve the problem and afford all of them a proper burial, the saintly Rabbi Aryeh Levin—who was dubbed the Father of the Prisoners for his many visits to members of the Jewish underground who were incarcerated during the British Mandate, and also known as the Tzaddik of Jerusalem for his selfless work on behalf of the poor and infirmed—performed the rare “Goral Ha’Gra” ceremony, a process in which the reader of the Bible is led to certain verses to give hints as to the subjects in question.
Let me share with you a poignant account of that event, recorded by Simcha Raz, who chronicled the life of Rabbi Aryeh Levin in the biography “A Tzaddik in Our Time.”
“The identification took place in Levin’s beit midrash (study hall), in the presence of representatives of the bereaved parents. Twelve candles were lit, the Bible was opened at random seven times and Rabbi Levin ruled that as they stood in front of the remains of each of the fallen fighters, the last verse on the page had to include the name, or an allusion to the name, of each of those whom they were trying to identify. How amazed everyone was when one of the verses that first appeared was ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein,’ a verse that [in Hebrew] begins with the word ‘to the Lord,’ which is abbreviated in Hebrew with the initials lamed-heh (35). Moreover, to everyone’s amazement, every page spoke unequivocally. In the first verse they reached, there was a specific name that clearly identified one of the fallen … One after the other … the identity of the fallen was determined.”
It is fascinating how much history we can learn just by reading Jerusalem’s street signs.
By Gedaliah Borvick