I am writing this from Zambia. It is a world away from Israel; from the music, programs and articles that knit Israelis together on this day. Yom Hazikaron 2015, the day of remembrance for Israel’s soldiers and victims of terror. It is a day that gives those of us who were born, raised and educated in Israel pause for thought on the human price we have paid for returning to our homeland; a terrible price. And our chronicle is still written in blood; our very being still exact a terrible price.
I am listening on my iPad to Israel’s army radio station. They are playing recently recorded songs, the lyrics of which were written by fallen soldiers and which have been composed and performed by young Israeli soldiers. It is surreal to be back there, in Israel, even if only and figuratively, with my compatriots and share with them the music and the words which commemorate a life not lived to the full.
I think of them; of those young people. I think of their families. I think of Ilan, my school friend. I think of Ro’i, Einat’s brother. I think of Daniel Muller, a new immigrant who arrived in Ra’anana with his family from France. I think of Natanel, my mother’s cousin; they all come back, marching into my consciousness. I remember the victims of suicide bombings in Israel’s cafés and the exploding buses of the 1990s. And I see once again the stunned faces of parents who I watched as a young journalist reporting, as they were burying their children.
The price. I think of the price and the sacrifice that we have been called to make, and are still called to make.I think of all those I knew who are now lying in military cemeteries. I think of my friend Jacqueline, who is now standing in front of her brother Meir’s grave to remember the brother who was only married for a few months before he was killed in Lebanon.
I have my earphones on to block out the noise around me and to hear the radio. I am listening to the songs being played on my iPod. Last words of soldiers who would never hear their letters, poems or texts composed and sung for the first time, some over 40 years after they were written. Optimistic songs, love letters, random thoughts and valedictory words written on the back of fraying pieces of paper.
Two days ago I met here at the hostel in Livingstone, a lovely young Israeli couple. They are traveling together across the African continent as part of their post-army gap year. She is planning to study medicine; he is going to complete his High school certificate. “It is a celebration of life”, they described the trip they are currently doing. “We are grateful we made it alive, with everything that’s been happening”, they told me. What a beautiful thought, but, more so, what a sad comment. None of my non-Israeli friends think of life like that. Life for them is taken for granted, as it should be. The Israeli couple are now in Windhoek, in Namibia, and I wonder if they are thinking of those who were not as fortunate as them. Perhaps, they too are pausing for thought now, thinking of their own relatives and friends who have made the ultimate sacrifice – maybe remembering people they never knew in their lifetime.
A few days ago, my nephew sent me a photograph of a smiling face on WhattsApp. I had no idea who the smiling man with the beard was. Then came a text message. It was a photograph of his friend, Shalom Yohai Sherki, who’d been deliberately run over the day before by a Palestinian and fatally wounded. He wanted me to see him; to know that his friend had existed. I was stunned. Oh God, how much more of this, I thought. When will it cease this madness, I asked no one in particular.
Zambia is a long way from Israel but even from here the memories return, the thoughts overwhelm and the questions persist.
You can leave Israel, I know — and I have, but Israel will never leave you. I know — and I feel.