A surreal scene came alive last week at the West Point Military Academy. At the cemetery, at the heart of the Academy, a group of forty American and Israeli teenagers sang Hatikva next to the grave of one of the greatest Jewish American heroes.
The heroic and tragic story of Colonel David “Micky” Marcus is familiar to many North Americans, because of the book and the Hollywood movie, “Cast a Giant Shadow”. The movie brings to life the amazing story of Colonel Marcus, a West Point graduate of 1924, and an honored officer of World War II. He was also a graduate of the Brooklyn Law School, and participated in drawing up the surrender terms of Germany and Italy.
On the eve of the Israeli War of Independence, David Ben Gurion was seeking a military advisor and asked Marcus to find a volunteer. Marcus, after seeing the horrors of the concentration camps in Europe, and having played an important role preparing the Nuremberg trials, agreed that he, himself, would take on this risky task.
The American Secretary of Defense allowed Marcus to fly to Palestine, then still under the British mandate, but ordered him to adopt an alias. Mickey “Stone” arrived just in time to assist the inexperienced Jewish army to prepare for the invasion of the five Arab armies on May 15th, 1948.
David Ben Gurion awarded Marcus with the highest rank of “Aluf”, making him the first Jewish General since Yehuda Ha Maccabi, 2000 years ago. Marcus was appointed commander of the Jerusalem front, and conducted the dramatic attempt to break the Arab Legions siege of Jerusalem. The bypass around the fort of Latrun, and out of range of the Legions fire, was known as The Burma Pass and allowed the Israeli convoys to reach Jerusalem and provide its inhabitants with food and ammunition.
On the night of June 14th, 1948 in the village of Abu Gosh, Marcus could not sleep. He wrapped himself in a white sheet and went out for a stroll. When he returned to the camp he failed to announce the password and unfamiliar with the Hebrew language, was mistaken by the guard as an Arab enemy. He was shot dead by friendly fire.
Marcus’s body was shipped back to America, escorted by Moshe Dayan, and he was buried in the military cemetery at West Point. David Ben Gurion and the whole of Israel mourned this great man. Ben Gurion is known to have said “He was the best man we had”.
Last week, the North New Jersey community hosted a delegation of teenagers, from our sister city of Nahariya in Israel. The students of the Amal high school choir sang and entertained our schools, JCC’s and old age homes, and brought Israel into our community.
The Israeli teens were generously hosted by families of the Solomon Schechter regional high school in Teaneck. The whole program was sponsored by UJANNJ’s Partnership 2000 and Israel Program Center committees.
On Israel’s Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron, the Israeli teens, and their American peers from Schechter regional, took a bus trip together to West Point. The purpose of the tour was to commemorate the only American Jewish hero who died in the Israeli war of Independence, and who is buried in the West Point cemetery.
A brilliant day in early May awaited us as we entered the peaceful cemetery. We gathered quietly around Marcus’s grave. The American students lit candles, Yizkor was read out loud, the Israeli choir sang “Makom Le Deaga”, and placed the Israeli flag on the grave.
In the quiet of the cemetery, surrounded by the beauty of the Hudson valley, forty young voices broke the silence with the most emotional Hatikva I have ever heard.
They sang together, Israelis and Americans, young beautiful proud Jewish teens.
They sang the Israeli anthem next to the grave of a Jewish American officer, who volunteered to assist the new state and lost his life doing so.
The final words of our anthem, “To be a free nation in our country, the land of Zion and Jerusalem” echoed back from the trees and gravestones. The trees wept, and so did we. It was an incredibly powerful moment, never to be forgotten.
Colonel Micky Marcus, and the other hundreds of volunteers who took part in the Israeli wars, are a model for us and for future generations – a model of highest devotion of Jews around the world, towards the state of Israel. Marcus and all the volunteers are to be remembered on Israel’s Memorial Day.
Colonel Marcus , we salute you, your Giant Shadow lives on.