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On Holocaust Day in Israel, Strangers Answer the Call to a Funeral

Yesterday was Yom HaShoah in Israel, the Jewish state’s day of remembrance for the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. With the remaining survivors of this dark chapter in history aging, fewer remain to share with today’s generations. But, as Jodi Rudoren writes for The New York Timesmany strangers in Israel answer the call to honor Holocaust survivors and victims of other anti-Semitic violence:

Most of the mourners had never met Nate Remer, who survived the Holocaust hiding in a Ukrainian forest, built a successful wholesale hardware business in Southern California and had severe dementia for 15 years before dying Tuesday at 82. They did not know his son, Gary, a professor at Tulane University, or his grandson, Moshe Alexander, who moved to Israel five years ago and works in high tech.

They came, anyway, to the hilltop funeral on Thursday, Holocaust Remembrance Day. There was Ben Pask, 29, a lawyer who took the day off because he had returned to Israel at 5:30 a.m. from the United States. There was Jessie Schechter, 59, who hurried to finish her pre-Sabbath shopping to make the 4 p.m. service, and brought a friend…

Holocaust Day is a major event in Israel. Much of the country stood silent for two minutes after a siren sounded at 10 a.m. Television channels broadcast only Holocaust-related documentaries the night before, or simply showed flickering candles. Spinning classes were canceled at Studio Mati, a gym near the Malha Mall in Jerusalem, because upbeat music is forbidden; the radio was filled with mournful melodies instead.

If attending a survivor’s funeral on Holocaust Day felt like destiny, mourning strangers is not an isolated phenomenon here. Some 30,000 people showed up last summer to bury Max Steinberg, 24, an American who had volunteered for the Israeli Army and was killed fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Even as Mr. Remer’s service ended on Thursday, thousands were pouring into the same cemetery for the funeral of Shalom Sherki, 25, who was killed the night before by a Palestinian driver who slammed into a bus stop in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of French Hill.

“It’s a Jewish thing, you know?” explained Ms. Schechter, a photographer and video editor who moved to Israel from Miami 25 years ago, citing the mitzvah, or commandment, to escort the dead. “One of the principles we stand on is you do things in this world that there’s no reward for in this world. The sweetness of it, the reward, is in the world to come.”

Tags: Holocaust , Israel

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