This time of year in the Israeli calendar is an emotional roller coaster. We proceed from Yom HaShoah (Holocaust and Heroes Memorial day) today to Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for the IDF) to Yom Ha’Azmaut (Independence Day) all within the space of a week. From agony to ecstasy, from death to life and from despair to hope! Yom HaShoah reminds us of the awful fate that met the Jews when we were not independent in our land and responsible for our own defense. 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” (Hatikvah) only became a reality when we Jews took matters into our own hands. It is not enough only to yearn, weep, hope and pray as the Jews did for so many centuries. One has to stand up and do what is right, to “walk the walk.”
I have been guiding Taglit-Birthright since its inception and never cease to be wowed by the experience. One of the many factors that make Birthright trips so memorable are the soldiers who are part of the “Mifgash” (meeting between the Diaspora participants and IDF soldiers).
An image from my many trips that remains engraved in my memory took place at Yad Vashem. On the first day we met the soldiers I noticed that one of the soldiers had an unusual badge on her uniform. She told our group that it was an “Aidim Bemadim” (“Witnesses in Uniform”) badge given to IDF soldiers who are sent to Poland to represent the State of Israel on the “March of the Living.” At Yad Vashem she recounted that despite the freezing cold in Poland, the soldiers took off their coats and marched proudly in their dress uniforms with their backs straight and their heads held high. There were freezing cold tears on every soldiers face. When I asked her what the tears were for, she responded that they were both tears of despair and sorrow for being seventy years too late to help and at the helplessness of the Jews without a State and an army, and tears of pride for now being so strong and having the ability to protect Jews in Israel and world-wide. The tears of each emotion mingled on the youngster’s faces.
It is heart-warming in these times to meet these special Jewish young people who come to give and not to take, and who represent all that is good about the miraculous times we live in. After almost two stateless millennia we are in charge of our own destiny and we do have good people to show us the way.