(Note: This was originally posted to the newsletter of Camp Ramah Darom, where I served as director, and on my personal blog in May, 2006. So much and so little has changed. Michael Levin z”l was still alive, as were others who would be killed in Lebanon. In 2006, I was living in Atlanta. This past August, we made Aliyah and now live in Jerusalem. Peace talks have come and gone and come and gone again. Re-reading this, however, I see that it still best captures my feelings on Yom HaZikaron.)
May 1, 2006, 19th Day of the Omer
At 8:00 pm, even the cats stand still. Movement stops immediately and completely. Cars stop in the middle of turns, buses stop in the middle of the street, and people crossing the street stop mid-step. An eerie calm descends as the city halts.
Silence – it is so quiet. You hear no engines, no honking, and no yelling. If the calm is eerie, the silence is more disconcerting.
The silence is pierced, suddenly, by The Tzefira, The Siren. Yom HaZikaron begins.
As the clock hits 8 pm, I am watching TV, waiting for the official opening memorial ceremony to begin. When the torch is lit, I step out onto the balcony of my hotel room and take my place, silent and still. I watch as the bus just entering the public transportation lane grinds to a halt, as people stop wherever they are, in the middle of the street, at a bus stop, on the corner. And even the cats stand still. I watch a tabby cat standing as if at attention. It must be shocked by the standstill. I wonder what it is thinking about as it contemplates the moment.
The Siren wails, it penetrates deeply, to the most remote corners of my soul. I, who know nobody killed in the wars of Israel, in the brutal, ugly terror of the past six years, shiver. What do those who have lost family members, lovers, friends, feel? The intensity must far exceed what I feel. I cannot imagine.
Israel truly stops on Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day for The Fallen of the IDF, of the Wars of Israel, and Victims of Terror. It is stunning. The Israeli sports TV channel, the children’s network, all four of the movie channels, and even the Hallmark channel show images stating they will resume broadcasting at the conclusion of Yom HaZikaron. The music is somber, even on the rock and roll channels.
Channel 26 broadcasts the name of every person who died on Israel’s behalf. It is midnight now and they are remembering those who fell on May 18, 1948. A split second for each one: rank, name, date of death. Moshe Brown, Yeudit Berkovitz, Daniel Goldman, Dov Brenherer, Ya’akov…, Mordechai Glazer, Yisrael, Groburg, …They pass too fast for me to record all the information. Lives cut far too short, cut even shorter now in order show every name of every person who gave their life for our land. Our land. And I don’t even live here…
The television channels that are broadcasting show an array of documentaries about the lives of those who died, some very recently, others decades ago. They are united by the incredible sense of loss that parents and siblings, friends and lovers feel, no matter how recent or how long ago the events occurred. Pictures of soldiers when they were little, with army buddies, in junior high school, they represent powerful images of incomplete lives. Videos of birthday parties, army tests, hanging out with friends at the beach, and of ascending buses as they enlist are meshed together so masterfully that my eyes constantly well up with tears.
Ten minutes later, channel 26 is now switching to May 19, 1958. Thousands and thousands who sacrificed, the ultimate sacrifice, so that Jews could have a homeland, listed and remembered by the entire country for even just a second.
Tomorrow, I will go to the military cemetery at Mt. Herzl, the main ceremony in Jerusalem, with my friend, Tova:
“Why Har Herzl?” I ask.
“I have friends there.” She quickly retorts.
I have to think for a minute.
What time does she want to meet her friends?
Who are they?
Thank God I keep the questions to myself because I suddenly realize she isn’t talking about her LIVING friends. She has friends buried on Mt. Herzl and she wants to remember them, to be close to them.
I will go with her. I don’t know what I will see. I know that it will be far different than the “barbecue day” that Memorial Day is in the US to so many, although that must be changing with the losses from the Gulf War. I can only guarantee three emotions: sadness at the shear size of the sacrifice; relief and gratitude that none of our shlichim have fallen; and so many conflicting feelings, too many to list here.
Israel is a precious gem. It is powerful and beautiful and creative. It is not perfect but it is all of those things I just mentioned, and more It is Our Home. We stand together with all those who mourn for their losses. They are our losses too. Is mourning enough? What do we DO? And can it be enough. I don’t know. And it is after midnight and I got up for minyan in Tzfat at 5:50 am, so these thoughts will have to stay somewhat incomplete for a few days until I can sort them out.
Tomorrow, take a moment and stand still. Just stop. Think.
Give thanks for the State of Israel, and remember those who have fallen to insure that there will always be a place for the Jewish people in our national homeland.
Their memories are a blessing.
A blessing of strength.
A blessing of wisdom.
A blessing of courage.
May we see in our day peace in the Middle East.
May we see the final date after which no names are ever added to the list on channel 26.
May we never forget.