I fought in the Al Aqsa Intifada with a friend of mine from a moshav near Modiin. His younger brother was only nine at the time and was buzzing around all over the place every time we sat in his home on weekends relaxing.
In 2014 the two of us were once again sitting in his parents’ garden when his brother walked in, rifle in hand and just returned from Gaza. It wasn’t his appearance but the tired warrior look on his face that most conveyed that he was no longer a child.
Perhaps it’s only when you see someone that much younger being called upon to follow you into the breech that it really hits you just how constant, how enduring, how gut wrenchingly never ending this conflict really is.
When in uniform you trust that the fight you’re in is the one that will make the difference, that it will be the last fight that needs to be fought. The experience of our little country is that this will never be the case. That over and over again our youth will be called and thrown into the fight, that the fight before was yesterday’s battle and the new day has brought a new battle, perhaps with a new enemy but always with the same objective.
Sometimes we lose soldiers sometimes we lose civilians but each and every time we have a whole new set of dues to pay. Because it doesn’t matter that we won a lightning victory in 1967, it doesn’t matter that we won against all odds in 1973 and it doesn’t matter that we withdrew from the quagmires of Lebanon or Gaza. For the enemies of Israel it’s as if these fights never happened, Israel still exists and they still want to destroy her. Which is why in Israel there’s no such thing as a memorial day to remember victims killed in a long ago war.
We will always be healing from fresh wounds as well as counting our scars.
On Yom Hazikaron, families throughout Israel will sit together looking at the spot on the couch no longer taken, thinking of the bed no longer slept in and mourn their very personal loss. They’ll join with their friends and families and communities to mourn together the loss of the those who once had the hopes and dreams of the rest of their lives before them. This yearly ritual is as much a part of what it is to be Israeli as speaking Hebrew and serving in the military.
In Israel we serve the state. We don the uniform and pick up the rifle. We go into the breech and then we send our children into the breech knowing that victory in the defense of our country means nothing more than fating ourselves to watch our grandchildren do the same.
On Yom Hazikaron we reflect. We count the cost.
On Yom Hazikaron we ask if it was worth it.
And tomorrow we’ll celebrate what it was they died for. We’ll remember that before the state of Israel existed Jews were being killed without living in freedom in their own land.
We’ll remember that before there was a state of Israel, Jewish families had the grief of mourning their dead without recourse to any kind of justice, except for the grand justice of the Almighty.
And that just perhaps, almost 70 years ago, he heard them.