It is said that we are all connected by six degrees of separation. But in Israel, it’s always two degrees of separation – from six different angles.
On the eve of Yom HaZikaron, the sun begins its descent scarcely before it has risen. A nation coagulates in mourning for its fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, taunted by the gaudy gaze of flags fluttering on every lamp-post in anticipation of Independence Day. A people recoils in grief – an intensely personal, inescapably public grief.
Personal, because the Angel of Death has visited nearly every household. And public, because in Israel everyone knows everyone – at least through someone. When we weep, it is not for unknown soldiers – it is for souls to which we attach faces, names, hobbies, dreams, desires, hopes and shattered lives. And for the parents, orphans, widows and friends whom we know and love personally, to whom we do the same. The diameter of the bomb, in Yehuda Amichai’s haunting metaphor, indeed “reaches up to the throne of God and beyond”.
Two nights ago, Channel 2 broadcast a documentary on ‘Black Friday’ – last summer’s battle in Rafah in which we lost Lt. Hadar Goldin (z”l), Maj. Benaya Sarel (z”l) and Staff Sargent Liel Gidoni (z”l). For an hour, the gaping hole in the hearts of the bereaved families corroded my own. And I thought of my friends who were personally connected to the fallen (because this shtetl is so small), and in the privacy of my home I wept.
This is my first Yom HaZikaron in Israel, and my first in the uniform of the Israel Defense Forces. I enlisted the morning after the end of the war, at the close of that Indian summer. Away from the detached embrace of the Diaspora, I am about to experience the full emotional blast of the Israeli pressure cooker from up close for the first time.
As the sun goes down, I shall mourn for the cousins of friends and for the friends of cousins. For those I never knew, and of whom I knew nothing, until the message arrived that all but two degrees separated us from six different angles, when their tragedy became mine by osmosis.
When the sun rises, I shall weep for the friends I never made. Whose paths could have easily crossed with mine. Whose paths would have almost certainly crossed with mine. Those who by fate entered my life as names in a newspaper headline before they could do so as friends. Whose laughter and wit I never heard, but would have heard, and whose voices for me will forever be those of their tear-choked parents.
And as the sun sets again to mark the the schizophrenic transition to Independence Day, I shall embrace and hold tight those who are still with me – and only God knows for how long – by their still moist shoulders. And I shall thank them for being only one degree of separation away, and for having returned home safely, and for blessing me by entering my life this way and not the other.