Those who know Israel know that the day of remembrance for the fallen soldiers and civilians of Israel (Yom Hazikaron) is immediately followed by Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut). By placing these national commemorations so close together we acknowledge that our independence rests on the sacrifice of our young soldiers and on our citizens who refuse to be bowed by terror.

This year for perhaps the fourth time we were asked to represent the AACI and by extension all American and Canadian immigrants in Netanya at the Yom Hazikaron memorial service in Netanya. The ceremony took place at the Yad L’banim, or Memorial to the children, in an open air amphitheater with an audience of ca. 1,500. There is such a Memorial hall to the fallen soldiers and citizens in each town and city in Israel. The ceremony consisted of the lighting of huge braziers, speeches by some notables, including the Mayor of Netanya Miriam Fierberg, and family members who lost a child or parent and some musical interludes. Finally we laid a wreath as the representatives of the Anglo community and then there were patriotic songs.

This year something unusual happened, about 30 mins into the service, my wife Naomi suddenly shrieked “I’ve been bitten…on the neck.” I assumed a mosquito bite, but could not see anything in the dark, but a man behind us brushed something off her coat and told us that it was big and had many legs. He spoke English but did not know the name of it. I thought maybe a wasp or hornet. He and everyone else was searching for it. All the young soldier girls ran away. About 15 mins later someone saw it crawling up the steps beside us, it was a giant millipede, about 5-6 ins long. At first I thought it was a snake, but then someone stomped on it and it was gone. I was afraid for Naomi in case it was poisonous, but the man said that it could be painful but was not dangerous. When we got home I gave her an anti-histamine tablet and some cream on the bite, that was small and not swollen. Today she is fine. A remembrance day we will remember.

Since 1948, in the 64 years of Israel’s existence, nearly 24,000 Israelis have been killed either in combat or by terrorism. This is a large number, a huge sacrifice for a small country. But, we must keep it in proportion, many more Jews died during the Holocaust when they had no protection. Also, many more die each year from road accidents than from terrorism. We are resigned to this as the price we must pay for our independence given the degree of hatred against us that exists in the world.

Today is Yom Ha’atzmaut and we rejoice in the fact that we have our own state and that its population is now 7.8 million, a 12-fold increase in 64 years. Quite an accomplishment. And today we met some friends in the new plush Mall in Poleg called Kanion Ir Yamim. In a way you could not tell where you are, the Mall could be in the US, England or almost anywhere. But, the fact that it is in Israel speaks volumes about the Jewish determination to live a normal life whatever the dangers and challenges.