שירת שלום

Song of Peace

Honoring a Warrior by Rabbi David Degani and Cantor Lee Degani

30 Jul 2018 7:35 AM | Shirat Shalom (Administrator)

From Rabbi David:  It is a well known fact that humans are social creatures. Unlike some animals he is not meant to live a solitary life. We have an emotional need to share life experiences with others. Maybe that is the reason we evolved into the sophisticated creatures that we are.  It seems that sharing one’s experiences whether happy such as a wedding, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, graduation or sad ones of sickness or death lead to better human understanding of the world around us. We call it progress. Whatever the reason for our needs of human interaction, I learned its power recently when I lost my beloved father.

Dad was an amazing, high achieving and loving human being. He lived a long life but that did not make leaving us any easier. Mourning is a very painful process. In its wisdom the Jewish tradition dictates  that in the first week of mourning, when the shock and the pain are most intense, we sit and deal with the pain without really doing much of anything else. It is called "Shiv-ah"  literally, "seven" for the seven initial days of mourning. This is the time when human interaction with the mourners is so critical.     

There is a Jewish saying that visiting the sick or the mourner is such an important mitzvah that it is as if the visitor physically revives the sick or the mourner back to life. When a visitor enters the house of a mourner it is as if angels accompany him or her.

This past month, I became so much more appreciative of the mitzvah of visiting the mourner. The encouragement and consolation I received from all of the wonderful people and children who visited me or expressed their condolences in other ways cannot be put into words. I am very grateful to all of you for the love and care you have shown me and Cantor Lee not only during Shiva in my most intense time of need but also throughout the years. We are family. We care deeply for each other. Knowing that helps me immensely as I go through the continued process of grieving for my Dad.       

 From Cantor Lee:  I wondered how it would be for Rabbi David to officiate his own father’s funeral. He has had experiences officiating for other family members, including my brother-in-law eight years ago. I still remember that when it came to my turn to chant the prayers, of looking out at everyone and wondering if I could actually sing. But as I have learned over the years, there is just something so powerful about our prayers. I only need to surrender and the prayers will sing for me. 

As I watched Rabbi David I could see how difficult it was for him to begin the service.   But he too surrendered and let G-d speak through him. Yes, I know he is my husband, but each time during any funeral we do, I am always touched so deeply by the comfort and healing he brings. And so it was during my father in law’s funeral.   

When I think of my father in law, Tzvi, I just automatically associate him with Israel.  As Rabbi David said in his eulogy, “My dad was Israel. Israel was in his soul. He ate, drank and thought about his beloved country all the time from the minute he woke up to night time.”  I am grateful that my children have heard first hand his stories over the years for Tzvi truly lived the history of Israel. He helped make Israel’s history!  

Tzvi lived in the land of Israel from the time he was a very young child.  Born in Poland, his mother died when he was four years old. His father, wanted by the government as a Bundist, fled to South America. Tzvi’s maternal grandparents smuggled him into what was then Palestine in 1928.  

(I am continuing with excerpts from Rabbi David’s eulogy)

He was forced to leave school at the age of 10 to help in his grandparents’ shop. At the age of 12 he went on his own and opened a kiosk in the Tel Aviv food market and ran it for 4 years. My dad was a life warrior. Whatever difficulties he faced from childhood, he learned quickly to face it head on.

At the age of not quite 17 he joined the struggle for Jewish Independence in the land of Israel. It meant fighting in four different wars and surviving all of them. 

He first joined the British army in early WWII. A few years later he joined the Jewish underground, the Haganah, which actually fought the British. From there he joined an elite fighting group which after several bitter battles literally stopped the Egyptian army from advancing into Tel Aviv. This was during the heroic War of Independence. He then fought two more wars. The first was when Israel was attacked by Egypt and Syria in 1956. The other was the well known Six Day War in 1967.

For a while he even served in the Israeli Secret Service in Lebanon since he spoke several dialects of Arabic, Hebrew, English, Yiddish and a little of a few other languages. In his house he displayed proudly pictures from all the wars as well as an official State of Israel's  recognition for his bravery in the battlefield.

My dad fought the war of life. He did well as a provider, as a meat distributor to factories  and to the army. He worked physically hard. Very hard. From childhood until he retired the hours were always long. Leaving very early in the morning and always returning  when it was already dark.

My dad had his share of issues and challenges which were thrust upon him many times during the course of his life. Some of the issues were painful and frustrating and very difficult to deal with. But he stood tall in all of them, facing his challenges head-on.  Always.

Many years ago he had a complicated triple bypass operation which the doctors did not think he would survive. He used to joke that he probably buried all the doctors who treated him as he lived to almost 94.

Dad did things his way. Always. Known for his stubbornness, in Israel he was a very well known figure. He seemed to know everyone in the country. He was an arranger. If you needed something arranged, no matter how difficult, he would have a friend or know someone in the field to arrange it for you. We are talking all walks of life. He even knew the upper echelon of the Israeli military, the highest ranking officers of the IDF including the likes of Moshe Dayan and Itzchak Rabin.  

He had his own ideas about everything and that was the way he lived his life. Even the last day of his life.......

My father in law left us on July 4th. Rabbi David had hoped that wouldn’t be the day he would choose as we would always associate the holiday with his death. But on each July 4th  as I celebrate America's Independence, I will remember that Tzvi was a part of making Israel once again Independent. What a perfect day to honor him each year!

May his memory be a blessing…. and may his deepest wish that Peace comes to the Middle East, that there is no longer such as a thing as war....come to be…


Rabbi David and Cantor Lee


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