A boy doesn’t have to go to war to be a hero; he can say he doesn’t like pie when he sees there isn’t enough to go around.
— Edgar Watson Howe
An Arab sheik from Jerusalem whom I know once told me that if the holy earth of our country could speak, it would cry out to us in anguish at all the blood that has been spilled upon it. And today our people who “sit in Zion” pause to listen to that too-anguished cry and to recall those moments too painful to bear daily, too horrible to imagine. The voice of our brothers’ blood cries out to us today and we take pause, if only for a moment, to listen.
To hear that cry is to hear the knock on the door, which upon being opened reveals a cadre of military officers and social workers on the doorstep, which in our battle-weary country can mean only one thing. It is to hear the news flash on the radio and then listen to the unanswered ringing of your loved one’s cell phone. It is to hear the laughter of children at play, too young to understand that daddy is never coming home again. It is to listen to the muffled, swallowed-back tears of sunglassed young men standing at attention and trying to look tough, as they lower a comrade, with whom only yesterday they were joking, into his newly dug grave. And it is to hear the howl of parents as they bawl in pain, again, as the never completely healed wounds of loss are reopened at the siren’s wail.
Is today a day for mourning the loss of heroes? The soldiers sent into battle by their country to defend us? The brave few whose courage in battle should stand as a beacon to us all — reminding us, the living, of the price paid for our days at the beach and beside the barbeque? There are soldiers and there are soldiers. There are officers who dove upon hand grenades to save their men by sacrificing their own lives. There are Bedouin trackers whose names cannot be mentioned lest their families are made to suffer at the hands of neighbors who think differently about the Zionist army. And there are those, too tired from a night of partying with their old friends from high school to be behind the wheel of a car, who never made it back to base. Each of their graves is marked today with the same small blue and white flag.
And today, these same flags flutter over the tombstones of the smallest of children and the greyest-in-beard old men who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time: those who went to the mall, or took a bus, or ate a slice of pizza, or even just opened a book in their yeshiva’s library. Heroes all? Or does their fate as targets of a new iteration of the world’s oldest hatred make them into something they were not in their all too ordinary lives?
Each day, every day, our blood-soaked land cries out to us. Is this day different from all others only because we stop and listen?
May the souls of the fallen be tied to the very Giver of Life.