A Different Brand of Thanksgiving- From Mourning to Celebration

Wedding w Elisheva Taragin

Elisheva Taragin, MMY student, to the left behind the bride, in lavender.

Normally, MMY does not celebrate Thanksgiving as a school event. This year, however, we “celebrated” a very unusual kind of Thanksgiving. In theme with the current challenges and resulting tragedies, the entire Yeshiva and Seminary world gathered together at Yeshivat Ashreinu in Beit Shemesh, to pay tribute to Ezra Schwartz, HY”D, the recent young victim of yet another cruel act of terrorism. In a juxtaposition that only Am Yisrael is capable of, the entire contingency of young adults boarded busses straight from the Azkara (memorial event) to attend the wedding of Ariel Biegel and Sarah Techiya Litman, whose father and brother were murdered just two weeks earlier.

Rabbi Katz recounts the following:

"‘Tov Lalechet El Beit Evel M'lechet El Beit Mishteh’ - It is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of joy.  The wisest of all men, Shlomo Hamelech, obviously knew what he was talking about. But he also wasn’t in MMY last week - so I would like to paraphrase that Pasuk in Kohelet (7:2). ‘Tov Lalechet Gam L’beit Evel Ul'beit Mishteh’ - it is best of all to go to both in the same day.  But really , and maybe unique to Israel, it is best to go to a house of mourning which can also be a house of joy - even if that seems like a contradiction. Sad realities are still sad. But, to quote Rav Meir Lichtenstein's D’var Torah from the Azkara (quoting his grandfather – Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitxhik, Z”L), we don’t squelch the sadness. But it is up to us what we do with it.

I can only speak personally - but only every so often does one participates in an event that has so much impact that it can be life-changing. In my 20 plus years in MMY I can identify a few such events. That Thursday night was for sure one of those few.”

Serena Shmulewitz, and Aliza Hersch, current students at MMY, describe the feelings that were colliding within as they made the transition from one place to the other.

Serena shares that “the bittersweet tone of the evening so aptly encapsulated the paradox of the Israeli Yom Hazikaron/ Yom Ha’atzmaut mindset.” Stepping out of her comfort zone to attend a stranger’s swarming  Simcha, she was blown away by the fact that the entire Klal Yisrael was invited to support and celebrate with this courageous couple. “The wedding was so absolutely packed with people, that I was literally airborne as the human current swept me along in the dancing.” Although it was Thanksgiving, and several of the girls had planned to celebrate with their customary Thanksgiving dinner before night Seder, they realized the importance of giving up this small tradition to be a part of something far greater.

Aliza imparts the parallel lesson she discovered this week. Our yearly celebration of Chanuka is not that we simply won a war over the Greeks. Our enemies had been doing everything in their power to convince us that there was no Shechina at the sight of the Temple, that G-d was not present with us. They attempted to create an atmosphere of despair and abandonment. Our miracle was that we won over the hopelessness, finding one pure Pach Shemen, to illuminate the entire Temple.

“Being at the Azkara,” Aliza continues, “we all felt so distant, so pained by the collective tragedy. But shifting from that, straight into wedding mode, albeit a wedding no less poignant, served as a real awakening.” Much in the same way that the story of Chanuka evolved, the evening became one of hope, strength, and inspiration. The Achdut and connection that bonded each and every person present at that memorable event, was testimony to the future of Am Yisrael, and our ongoing relationship with a very Present and Loving G-d. We do still have the opportunity to connect with G-d and build that relationship, we can still celebrate a Simcha. May Klal Yisrael forge on, drawing strength and continuously building!

For a video link of the Azkara event, click here.

If you don't have the 2 hours to watch the whole thing (though it is all incredibly worth it), here are some of Rabbi Katz’s highlights: 


Part 1 - 6:48- Tehillim led by the van driver who was driving the van when they were shot at and Ezra was killed. 

Part 2 - 6:30- The rap /song that the Ashreinu boys sang. It was so incredibly genuine. 

Part 2 - 30:25- Speech given by Moshe Freier about his friend

Part 2 - 35:10- The short Kumzitz with Shlomo Katz and Chaim David. 

Part 2 - 56:15- The siyum leading directly (at 01:01:35) into the incredible Am Yisrael Chai dancing at the end. 


For a more detailed article about the wedding, including videos, (as appears in “Times of Israel,”) click here.

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