This past Sunday, at Washington Square Park I spoke about Alex, read aloud his poem about calm power, and held my tears. Shira, Sarah, and other Lab/Shul friends joined me there, standing alongside hundreds of others, Israelis and Americans. We sang together as we prayed for peace. The legacy of courage that Alex and so many left behind – lives on.

Alex Singer died on his 25th birthday, in a battle on the border with Lebanon, in 1987.

He was an American born idealist, a bright eyed Jewish man who made Aliyah to Israel a few years earlier. He joined the paratroopers, became an officer, and paid for his idealism with his life. Alex was also a poet and a painter, and though he’d never know it – he was the reason that a few months later, when it was my turn to enlist in the Israeli army – I decided to volunteer for the paratroopers too.  He was my role model, even though I only met him a couple of times.

Alex was a few years older than me, handsome and funny, sincere and thoughtful. We met through mutual friends in Jerusalem and I was impressed by his idealism – after graduating from Cornell he decided that his home was Israel and that he was willing to fight for the survival of this homeland. What I, Israeli born and questioning so much already, took for granted and doubted– he took so much more seriously, and with passion.

When news of his tragic death became public, I was shattered. That weekend, selections from his journal were published, with poems and drawings, detailing every step of his journey from college to basic training officers’ course – little sketches of life, with musings and hopes.  One of his poems was printed on the front page of the Jerusalem Post. I memorized it.

And when I too joined the paratroopers, a few months later, literally following in his footsteps, I’d repeat the poem like a prayer, again and again, especially through the grueling marches and endless runs around the base. If he could do it – so could I.

But unlike him, I lived to tell. I still know the poem by heart.

On this memorial day, as in previous years, I share his story of courage and creativity. I honor his sacrifice, his story cut too short. I vow to continue in his quest to make Israel a better place – for all.

Today is the day on which Israel marks Yom Ha’Zikaron, the Memorial Day for those who gave up their lives in too many wars, along with all the victims of vicious violence. And tonight we shift gears, from remembering the fallen to raising the flag back up, celebrating independence on Israel’s 75th anniversary, Yom Ha’Atzmaut. It’s a complex 48 hours for those of us who take it to heart, for those of us who still insist that peace is a realistic option, that the pain of both Palestinians and Israelis must be recognised and lifted up so that no more blood would be shed, and real solutions to the conflict would become a national priority.

This year, these days feel very different.

In addition to the complexities of the ongoing occupation, Israel’s internal tensions and rifts, and alongside so many successes and reasons for pride – everything in Israel is upside down.

Israel is in the midst of an unprecedented rising wave of protests, including those by Israelis and Jews worldwide, against the current government and its dangerous ultra-right policies that challenge Israel’s already fragile democracy, threatening to tear apart the state. There’s much at stake. There’s less to take for granted.  Many of us are deeply engaged in the fight. There is a spirit of passion and engagement that few remember and many feel is a surge of new energy that has the potential to create much needed change for good. But it won’t be easy and much is yet unknown.

How can you learn more about what’s going on and help make a difference?

I invite you to watch this powerful short video with an important message by Mika Almog, an eloquent Israeli political activist, who is also the granddaughter of the late Shimon Peres. Mika explains why this is a vital moment for American Jews to get engaged with what’s going on – for the sake of democracy and human rights everywhere, for the sake of the Jewish values we all cherish and refuse to give up, for the sake of solidarity.

I invite you to watch the speech I delivered this past Sunday, at the weekly protest in Washington Square Park to fight for Israel’s democracy. I was one of the speakers, and quoted the poem that Alex left behind before introducing my incredible friend, the super star and peace activist Noa, who volunteered with her musical partner Gil Dor to perform a few powerful songs, speaking from her heart about this important moment.

You can watch my short speech HERE and read Alex’s poem below.

I share these words with you today to mark these sacred days, to honor the many sacrifices made to enable this homeland where so many of our family and friends live, to keep going, along with scars and questions, challenges and pain-points. Along with hope.

And finally, I invite you to join me, along with Lab/Shul’s ritual team, at the special ritual we will be part of TONIGHT in Brooklyn, to transition from grief to growth, engaged in conversation and reflection, song and prayer.  This event will be celebrated in person at the Kane Street Synagogue. We apologize that we will not be broadcasting it online. To RSVP click here.

Along with the State of Israel, I was born on this night of transition from memorial to independence, and I invite you to join us tonight too, after the ceremony. To raise a glass to all the gifts of life, to the chance to make life better, celebrating this privilege, honor our heroes, and lift up life.

To honor this day with a generous gift towards peace and hope, I invite you to also consider a gift to The Sulha Peace Project – one of the best grassroots organizations that I know and support – fostering friendship, forgiveness, and bridge-building between Palestinians and Israelis. You can also donate to the grassroots organization of the ongoing protests for democracy here in NYC: Support the Protests for Democracy!

May we step up, with calm power, to stand up for justice, love and hope, today and every day, everywhere.

May memories bring blessing.

With hope, and with love, and to life!

Rabbi Amichai

PS: I look forward to seeing you at the next protest in Washington Square Park – next Sunday at 12 noon!

Poem by Alex Singer, of Blessed Memory

Once in a while.
As I progress towards the course’s end.
I feel a pang of fear.

Today I felt such fear.

If the war comes
When the war comes
I will have to lead men to die

But those men were not men a short time ago
Some don’t even shave yet
And I will have to have the calm power
to yell to them
or to whisper

Kadima.

And,

I will have to have the calm power
to step forward myself.

August 1986

Alex Singer: Building A Life

Downside Up: Sabbath Queen April 2023 Sermon
בקריאת התורה דיברתי על איידס במקום על צרעת, זה היה תיווך של הטקסט לחיים