As the tears escape intermittently throughout the day, my thoughts and social media filled with the stories of Israel’s fallen soldiers, suddenly I feel as if not a day has gone by since last summer’s war.
In years past, my thoughts on Yom HaZikaron were mostly for the many people in my life who had lost close family members to Israel’s war and Palestinian terror – fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands – and about their lives. I contemplated the macrocosmic scale of sacrifice on the part of the Jewish People and so many Israeli families, but the stories of the vast majority of Israel’s over twenty three thousand fallen are unknown to me.
This last war was different. I do not own a television, but my Facebook feed consisted almost entirely of news about the war. So much of that news was the tragic announcements of 67 brothers’, sons’, husbands’ and fathers’ deaths. The war was preceded by the abduction and murder of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah, whom we got to know in the eighteen horrible days we waited to learn of their fate.
Unlike broadcast television which repeats the same soundbites ad nauseam (the three boys’ phone call to the police after having been kidnapped, for example), internet media is constantly offering you related stories to what you’ve just read. With Facebook’s algorithm clearly in tune with my focus last summer, my feed was full not only of the details of the war’s progress, but of the stories of the people defending me with their lives.
In a way, the oddity of this Memorial Day began with its commencement. When the siren went of last night at 8 p.m., despite prior knowledge that it was coming, we jumped in fear and thought that it was an azaka.
Suddenly Israel’s on-line publications were publishing stories about those same names I remember from the war. This year, they weren’t just names; I didn’t have to read any further to remember who they were. Like Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, whose families are still waiting for the recovery of their bodies. Like Shaun Carmeli and Max Steinberg, American lone soldiers whose funerals were attended by tens of thousands of Israelis that didn’t know them. Like Bayhesain Kshaun, whose pregnant wife has since given birth to a daughter he will never know.
For the first time I feel that I really understand the objections of bereaved families to having Memorial Day and Independence day come one after another. I will find it difficult to put aside the feelings of pain evoked today in order to celebrate tonight. I know that my pain pales in comparison to that of Israel’s bereaved families and I imagine that many of them will be unable to celebrate tonight.
Their has been opposition to the juxtaposition of the two holidays since their inception, but society (and the government) has decided to maintain this psychologically intense practice. We stand resolute to embrace life in the face of no matter how much death. One week ago we honored the victims of the Shoah, today we honor those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. Tonight and tomorrow we will celebrate that freedom.
As the names came in from Gaza during the war, many of us experienced survivors’ guilt. Why them and not me? The entire Zionist enterprise rests on the belief that there is something worth dying for. In confronting the awfulness of the every generation sacrificing a few of its young for the continuation of our State, you are forced to wonder if Trumpeldor’s last words (“…it is good to die for our country”) ring true.
Remembering how I felt every day last summer and the empathy I have for the bereaved families, I shutter at the thought that another war is inevitable and that more families will join their ranks.
Given that in a few hours festivities will commence, I try to think about how the fallen would feel about the transition. In reading their stories, I know that the vast majority were true Zionists and patriots who loved this country. There is competition to be admitted to Israel’s combat units. The men who died last summer fought to be where they were, to assume the sacred duty of defending the Jewish People. Surely none wished to die; but we do not celebrate their deaths, we mourn them and thank them and celebrate life.
Because it all goes back to the same thing – why those men gave their lives last summer and why we will celebrate tonight – we, the Jewish People and the State of Israel, choose life.