Yom HaZikaron 5777

I remember my shock upon the birth of my firstborn, when, staring at the tiny creature still covered in gunk, one of my first thoughts was “oh, God, this baby will be drafted to the army one day.”

Last night, more than ten years later, I stood with that baby on the side of the road for the memorial siren, on our way to a joint Yom HaZikaron ceremony for Israelis and Palestinians. Together we remembered and mourned the fallen: my friends Marla and Ben, murdered in the second Intifada; our cousins’ cousin, stabbed to death; the son of my youngest son’s teacher, killed in Gaza. And so, so many others.

We were headed not to the main ceremony of thousands in Tel Aviv, but rather to a hastily put together parallel ceremony in Beit Jala for the 225 Palestinians who were denied permits to attend the Tel Aviv ceremony, and the busloads of Israelis who came to join them.

My son was a little scared. It was his first time visiting a Palestinian area or participating in an event with Palestinians. He was afraid someone in the room might be a terrorist. And he was afraid it would be too sad for him to handle. I promised we’d leave if he started getting too upset.

The room was packed claustrophobically tight, with hundreds of people outside. We sat next to my Palestinian colleague Z., whose 16 year old son spent months last year in an Israeli jail, awaiting trial for accusations that he had thrown stones at the army, before he was eventually released. As an Israeli daughter spoke about her father’s brutal murder at the hands of Palestinian terrorists, and a Palestinian father shared how his son was killed by an Israeli soldier while walking home from school, Z.’s body shook with silent sobs.

For me, remembering the pain and suffering of Palestinians in this conflict does not, in any way, detract from remembering the pain and suffering of Jews who were killed, of Israelis who were robbed cruelly of their loved ones. On the contrary. Hearing the stories of tragic and traumatic loss and suffering from both sides only intensified the pain. Our pain is not lessened by the fact that others have also suffered and continue to suffer. Rather, being with this group of Palestinians and Israelis, committed not only to mourning but also to working together for a better future for both peoples, offered a glimmer of hope in the midst of so much overwhelming despair. Yes, davka today, on Yom HaZikaron.

I am in utter denial about the fact that the baby covered in gunk, the boy who stood next to me last night, listening, learning, connecting, will be drafted to the army in eight years. I can’t bear the thought of him harming or being harmed, of him, God forbid, killing or being killed. It is so unbearable that I allow myself to think of it only once a year. In the meantime, I will do everything in my very limited power to transform the reality here, hoping against hope that such a day will never come.