[All names mentioned and unmentioned: zichronam livracha.]
If we were to stand in a moment of silence for all the victims of the Holocaust, we would be silent for 11 and a half years. If we stood for all the soldiers and citizens of Israel who have given not something, not much, but ALL for our country to remain, our flag to fly tall and proud, how long would it take to fully respect the 23, 544 souls who can now only fight for us in Heaven? We could spend all of these 24 hours, and last week’s Yom Hashoa, and all year naming names, having memorials, and we still would not do justice to the river of blood and tears on which our country is built.
A friend posted today that she could not even think of all the people she has to remember, ones which she personally knows (let alone all those other names and faces we, the country, only got to ‘know’ after the fact). She wrote that all day, more and more names keep popping into her head. I feel the same way. Some of those holy souls I am only getting to know today, like Yoni Jesner, who left such a beautiful legacy that his family created a foundation in his name. Others I was here for, like Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali, who in my mind do not need last names for the entire country to know to whom I am referring; they brought us together for 18 long and powerful days, only to leave us mourning and sad to find out that they were gone before we even knew them. This video, Vehi Sheamda, is what we say every Pesach about those who come and try to wipe us out. It shows some scenes from war to honor the soldiers, but for me it is tied into that time when we hoped and prayed [fruitlessly] to get our boys back unharmed. Thankfully, Gilad Shalit, who is shown in the video, did come back to us.
There are yet others, like the Fogel family, who left behind three broken children after both parents and three of their siblings were brutally murdered, including 3-month old Hadas. Still more flow in and out of memory, like my high school friend Sara Duker, murdered in a bus bombing with her fiancé, so long ago—how many still think of her? And Dafna Meir, advocate for women, who died last year protecting her children, whose amazing response was to eulogize her by thanking God for the short time they had with her. Also my sons’ teacher, Rav Yaakov Don, who left a hole in his students and who died in the same attack as Ezra Schwartz, a student from America, here to learn for the year. And sadly not last, but also, my friend Rivkah’s wonderful son Avraham David, who was murdered in the attack on his high school, Mercaz Harav. That attack was the first one that happened after we made aliyah, near my husband’s work—but far from making us want to leave, it only made me sad but sure I was in the right place, to be here with my nation in its time of sorrow.
Then there are the soldiers, like Yuval Hyman, who went to our local high school…as a local teacher, when I see former students in uniform, I feel oh so proud of them but at the same time, oh so very frightened that someday, sometime, as our fight seems unending, their names and faces will be among those we stand for. I see them and wish I could say : “Ani mavtiach lach…”, a song about a father promising his daughter that this is the last war. Sadly, the song has been with us for a while.
Last week we discussed, as English teachers, whether to teach about the Holocaust or leave that up to the homeroom teachers to cover, which I do some years. This year, another teacher had a short but emotional poem, and a great way to utilize it with our students, so I brought that in to my sixth and seventh grades. But with my eighth grade I decided to have them research and discuss the issue of Holocaust denial. The ones who were asked to say what deniers were saying were unhappy, to say the least, until I explained that we need to know what they are saying so that we can fight back and refute the nonsense spouted in the name of “history”. I followed this up by showing them the movie ‘Denial’, about Deborah Lipstadt’s fight against David Irving when he took issue with her treatment of him in her book on Holocaust denial. Then a parent suggested that I could show my seventh grade Schindler’s list, which most of them have not seen. This came out of a discussion we had about our current book, showing that different people react differently to similar events and that not everyone can be painted with the same brush of ‘evil’. To prepare, I had to pre-watch both movies. This diversion is to explain that since last Sunday, I have been immersed in the subject, and I am not done yet. I feel drenched in the blood, in the horror not only of what took place, but the absolutely disgusting purported idea that not only did it not happen, but that we are saying so in order to profit from it and also that maybe it should. I give kudos to Deborah and to others who have done their part in bringing the subject to light, in fighting the evil that comes again and again in every generation to try to wipe us out.
In being this involved, I remembered how it was to grow up as a second generation; we were shown not just movies but actual horrors that had taken place. I debated whether I should show this to my students, but as part of a generation who have less exposure to actual survivors who are a dwindling population, I feel it may be more important than ever for them to have a deep understanding of what was done. On Monday night I had the privilege to attend a speech where a few local survivors spoke, and their stories pierced my heart and brought me to the decision to bring these movies to my students. As we have seen from footage, even the American soldiers who showed up to rescue the victims could not believe their own eyes, could not imagine the depth of horror that was perpetrated. One scene in Schindler’s list particularly stuck with me, when Schindler watched the liquidation of the ghetto. The tune played over this atrocity is an old Yiddish lullabye about learning at the fireplace, yet it will now forever be connected with what was done to us then.
After seeing the movies, I rewatched some of the ceremony at Yad Vashem, and noted President Rivlin’s words about the connection of the Holocaust to the State of Israel. To paraphrase, the state is not, can not be a compensation for what was done to us, to our people in the Holocaust. Yet, we are here because that horror took place. Because the world could finally understand that the Jews needed a homeland, one where many had already returned to build, to drain swamps, to prepare the way for the many who would come back.
After this Holocaust Remembrance week, I went to a ceremony last night for Yom Hazikron, Remembrance Day for soldiers and victims of terror. When did this change? I don’t remember. During this ceremony Yehuda Avner’s daughter, Yael Michaeli, read from some diary pages he had not included in his book ‘The Prime Ministers’. These detailed the months from the exciting vote to give us a state, partitioned though it would be, through the day we declared independence, and also the war we had to fight after. It gave me a deeper understanding that this war was not just fought after the declaration, but in all those months prior. I think, if we were able to count them now, our number of those we lost for our country would be so much higher, including those who fought and died before we were a state, and even those who died draining the swamps and preparing the way.
There seem to be very few who ask, “Why do we have Memorial Day immediately before Independence Day?” “How can people go from extreme sadness to joy, from pain to levity and celebration?” But how can we not? We know, as one speaker said last night, that as Jewish marriages come with broken glass, Independence Day celebrations can only come after two minutes of silence for those with whose blood our country is watered, and reverence and pride for those who are, even now, on duty, watching over us. “Esah Einay el haharim, meayin yavo ezri?” “I turn my eyes to the mountains, from where will come my help?” [Tehillim] We have our answer: when we watch how 6,000 Jews surrounded by 50,000 Arabs won our state, when we watch all the subsequent wars won by our little nation, we know that the answer is that Hashem is watching over us. That we may lose some, but if we honor them, and live our lives here with hope and joy despite our very real fears and pain, their sacrifice was not in vain.
So today I cry with my people, but tonight I will celebrate with them. When asked why I continue to live here, through terror and castigation by many nations, other difficulties and missing our family, I have only one answer: I am home.