The other day I was driving in my car when the radio played ‘I Was Only 19’ by Redgum. And I had to pull over to the side of the road because it made me cry. It always does, this lament of young, clueless men killed and scarred by war.
Friday, April 25th, was ANZAC Day, memorial day for those that fell in battle. It commemorates the first battle where ANZAC troops, Australian and New Zealand boys, volunteers mostly, were slaughtered by the Turks in Gallipoli in 1915 as they swarmed the open beach under Turkish fire. They were cannon fodder, their lives wasted by British generals with poor strategic planning, in an essentially senseless war triggered, as history has it, by the assassination of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo in 1914.
Of course, it was all more complicated than that; World Wars always are. But there were the colonial farm boys, on distant shores, fighting a war which their colonial masters had engaged in, for reasons which were unclear to most of them. Dying for England. As did millions of English youth.
It all sounds pretty familiar, really. I am stating the obvious here. Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. America hasn’t won a war since World War 2, the last ‘good’ war. But thousands and thousands of Americans, and allies, continue to die in foreign lands for unclear reasons.
ANZAC day always falls within a few days, or even on, Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, my brother, Yehuda Pakula, fell in the Yom Kippur War on October 6 1973.
Unlike these other wars, where soldiers die in faraway places, Israel’s wars are always defensive, always vital, and there is no option for loss. It’s not about ideology or land, it’s always about survival.
My brother died on the Mezach, on the Suez, killed by Egyptian sniper fire, probably the first casualty of that terrible war which claimed 2688 Israeli lives, and who knows how many more apart from that official figure. Who knows how many died of grief or of depression or of PTSD, whether combatants or their families.
I have been asked to go to Canberra next week, to the Israeli Embassy, and to speak for 5 minutes, representing the bereaved families of the fallen. It’s a big ask, and it’s a short time, and I don’t know if it’s protocol, but this is the text of the speech which I plan on delivering:
My brother, Yehuda Pakula, was 17 when he left Australia in 1968.
He left for several reasons.
He wished to explore his roots in Israel, as our mother’s family came from Tzefat, pre WW1.
He wanted to visit ancient places about which he had learned in the TaNaCh while at school in Yeshivah College.
He was inspired by the recent miracle of the 6-Day-War, and wanted to be part of the thrilling story of Modern Israel.
He had been the target of one too many anti-Semitic attacks, where he had been pushed off his bike, beaten and called a ‘bloody Jew’.
He bought a one-way ticket to Israel and swore that he would not return to Australia.
We must be careful what we wish for. He never did return.
He did Ulpan on Kibbutz Sde Eliahu, integrated very quickly into the kibbutz community and eventually became a Chaver Kibbutz and then a member of the ‘Yachdav’ Garin. He was expert in driving heavy tractors to till the fields for planting.
He enlisted in the IDF January 1971, underwent basic military training and joined the Armed Corps as a tank driver.
He was on Miluim, reserve duty, when he was stationed at the Mezach, on the Suez, and was one of the first casualties of the Yom Kippur War, falling on the 6th of October. He had been due to be married in November of that year. He was 22.
After the war ended, he and 3 of his fallen fellow soldiers were left where they fell. The bodies were not returned for burial until after the 1977 Camp David Accords. He is buried in Har Herzl military cemetery.
Yehuda’s death was a terrible tragedy in a terrible war, and it took a terrible toll on my parents.
My father was a Holocaust survivor who had lost most of his family, including his first wife and 2 sons, murdered by the Nazis.
My mother never recovered emotionally and died 11 years later of ovarian cancer, but grief definitely played a part.
I was 18 and my parents were devastated. There was no such thing as grief counseling then, and we survived in our own ways.
In the few minutes which I have, I want to make a couple of points:
Bereaved families must have access to counseling services.
Siblings, especially young siblings, must be remembered, because there will be a long time where the grief-stricken parents will be unable to parent. Kids do not have the emotional resources to raise themselves and are most vulnerable to further psychological damage.
I will conclude by saying that, unfortunately, the scourge of anti-Semitism is still alive and well. It may have different names- anti-Zionism, delegitimization, BDS- but it’s all the same thing.
Israel is surrounded by hostile countries, and is under threat from many directions, internal, external and in cyber-space. And yet she survives and thrives and is a world leader on so many fronts.
The only way that we, the Jewish People, can continue to survive and thrive, is with a strong State of Israel.
Unfortunately, Israel has had to make too many sacrifices of her citizens in fighting for her freedom and very right to exist.
But, until Moshiach comes, we must be prepared for this terrible ongoing loss of life; we must be strong and of good spirit, Chazak veAmatz, because Eretz Yisrael is all we have.
It was true for Yehuda and it remains true today.
Tihiye Zichrano Baruch.
Lest we forget those who died so that we may be free.
Lest we forget those who were sacrificed so that Israel can continue to be our Jewish state, our homeland, our precious Eretz Yisrael.
Am Yisrael Chai.