When all of Israel will be celebrating freedom, the families of the fallen soldiers will forever be caged in their mourning. It will never go away.
On the 22nd of April Israel will mourn and think about all of the soldiers and citizens that fell while protecting Israel. It is the first “Yom Hazikaron” (Remembrance Day for the fallen soldiers) that will be held after Operation Protective Edge which will include all of the 67 soldiers that fell during that war.
On Wednesday all of Israel will visit graves of soldiers, go to ceremonies and mourn about our heroes. The next day however, while the bitter taste of Remembrance Day is still strong, Israel will celebrate her independence. Our fallen soldiers won’t have that chance though. They will never return or get the chance to celebrate their country’s independence. The independence they wanted to keep and cherish so strongly.
Among the 23,320 fallen Israeli soldiers that died over the years in all of the wars, not all of them were Israeli soldiers who had the obligation and duty to join the army. Some of the IDF soldiers are so called “lone soldiers”. These are young motivated people who move from their own country to Israel only to give their respect and to contribute to the State of Israel by voluntarily joining the army. Some of them go back afterwards, but a lot stay because they simply “fell in love” with this country.
These lone soldiers are called lone soldiers because they leave everything behind including their whole families, and just start their journey from 0 in the land of Israel even though they are completely alone. But in fact, lone soldiers are never really alone. All of Israel embraces them and loves them as if they were their own sons and daughters. You could see that during the funeral of Max Steinberg – a lone soldier that fell in Operation Protective Edge. He joined the army because of his love and dedication to this country, which all began during his Birthright trip. What started so beautifully, ended so tragically. His parents visited Israel for the first time only to bury their son. And to their surprise – even though he was a “lone” soldier, and the family hardly knew anyone in Israel, 30.000 people attended his funeral! People who didn’t even know his name. They heard that a soldier died whose whole family live in America, and immediately people began to attend the funeral and to honor Max and give their respect.
That is Israel, a unity and one people as I’ll describe below with a couple of examples.
From my letter to Max’s family:
“For us, as Olim Chadashim (New Immigrants), the love and bond with Israel is so pure and so strong. People often laugh at me and wonder why the hell I left my peaceful and calm Holland. Well the answer is, that Holland isn’t Israel. Even though living in Israel is not that safe and there is a constant fear of a next war and next attack, Israel is home. At least here, our lives are worth something. At least there is a value bound to our lives here. It’s the only place in the world where we really can feel at home. Even with random strangers. There is a special bond between the people here. A special connection that you cannot find anywhere else. Nothing compares to being here. All the fortune, good welfare, fame, money, high living standard etc, all of that is nothing, it’s empty. At least here you feel that you matter.” And Max mattered to us. Like all of them did, and still do.
What also clearly shows the strong connection with each other as a people and how united we all are is the tragedy of the 3 young teenagers who got murdered this summer. All of Israel prayed each and every day and the IDF searched for the boys night and day. Orthodox people, Secular Jews, Non-believers, everyone. During all of that we became one. One people with one mind and one goal. One nation.
Another example that shows our bond as a nation was during Operation Protective Edge where thousands of families made tons of food every day with devotion, love and care to send to the soldiers that were fighting in Gaza. Soldiers were overflowed with food, clothes, underwear, socks, hygiene tools etc. While driving in the bus you could see huge plates, posters, screens with texts like “All of Israel is embracing you, Golani. We love you“. Mentally we all fought the same war.
What saddens me though is that it takes tragic events or times of war to remind us of how beautiful our country is and how united we all are. Israel needs to keep that vision also when times are better. That’s the only way how we actually can be stronger.
So Wednesday I will mourn for our lost heroes. I will see how united my country is and my nation is. I will feel the connection growing and love for our country increasing. The deaths of our true heroes will not be in vain. And from Tuesday night with the hearing of the sirens until Wednesday night I will mourn about them all. Together with my country, my people. And then with the beginning of Independence Day I will be happy to think that Israel is a free country, an independent country after so many obstacles, wars and hate, but my heart will not be 100% free and joyful on that day. Even though we are free now, the price we had to pay was high. And the burden we need to carry is heavy. It is because of the fallen soldiers that we now live in a free country. So on Independence Day we will miss thousands of lives. Lives that won’t celebrate the day anymore that they loved the most, the day that stood for all of the reasons why these soldiers joined the army – to fully protect the State of Israel and stay a free and independent country forever and ever. We will remember you. All of you.
Am Israel Chai!