I attended my first funeral when I was nineteen. The theme colour was purple. On that beautiful spring day hundreds of mourners from my Givati unit were gathered to pay our final respects to one of our brothers-in-arms. After the appropriate prayers and psalms were recited, the silence of the military cemetery was shattered by the report of the honour guard, followed by the cries of family and friends as the flag-draped coffin was gently lowered into the soil of Israel.
All these years later the memory that sticks with me of that awful day is that everyone, from the Brigade Commander to the family members, were united in the contradictory emotions of numbing grief tinged with tremendous pride for our friend who was killed in action defending our homeland so we could live in freedom.
“Band of Brothers on Milluim” (photo (c) Tuvia Book, 2013)
It is no coincidence that Yom HaZikaron immediately precedes Yom Ha’Atzmaut, for without the former the latter would not be possible. The “hope of two thousand years to be a free people in our land” (Hatikva) only became a reality when we Jews took matters into our own hands. It is not enough to yearn, weep, hope and pray as the Jews did for almost two stateless millennia. One has to stand up and do what is right, to “walk the walk.”
One of the big lessons I and my fellow soldiers learned in my regular service and subsequent years of reserve duty was drummed into us during our basic training. After running around for hours in the sun, we were given a few minutes to rest in our tent. We all flopped gratefully onto our camp beds. After a few seconds the sergeant stood outside and asked for a volunteer. Initially we all said: “Nu, somebody go out.” When there was no volunteer immediately forthcoming the sergeant shouted, “everybody out!” This scenario repeated itself until the realisation dawns that sometimes you must step forward to be the “someone” who volunteers. In the words of Gandhi: “We must become the change we wish to see.”
This year as we commemorate Yom haZikaron and celebrate our sixty-fifth Yom Ha’Atzmaut let us be grateful for those boys and girls who give the best years of their life, and sometimes their very lives themselves, and are the people who step forward to keep our Zionist dream alive.
I will devote all of my strength, and even sacrifice my life, in the defense of the homeland and the freedom of Israel.
– from the Induction Oath to the IDF