- Smoke and fire visible in the distance as we are leaving the ceremony
At 5 pm, the temperature was still unseasonably hot at over 35 degrees Celsius which is 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. This did not stop the thousands of men, women and children carrying food hampers, chair and shades, braving the heat and the forest fires to make their way to the Latrun Armoured Corps Base to celebrate the induction of 712 soldiers of the Israeli Armored Corps into the Israeli Defense Forces. In Israel, the induction of soldiers is a festival to be celebrated.
We were there to support the fourth of our children to serve in the IDF From my seat in the crowd I was was able to identify new immigrants, veteran Israelis,many of them second or even third generation inducted into the Israeli Defense Forces and a few Druze and Arab families. We were all were there to support our children, siblings and grandchildren who were dedicating not just the next three years, but possibly their very lives to the survival and continued success of the State of Israel.
The now familiar ceremony begins with a rousing military bugle call, the playing of military themed music and some haphazard military marching. It continues with remembering those who have died and the reading of the first chapter of the Book of Joshua and concludes with a rousing commitment to the State of Israel and its values, the distribution of the Tanach and a rifle to each of the soldiers. Despite the preoccupation with keeping everyone hydrated in the searing heat and the by- now familiar repetition of the slogans repeated in the speeches, I felt the familiar tightening of my throat and tears in my eyes as I looked at the faces of the 712 young and enthusiastic inductees.
When I returned home, I saw a Facebook post by my cousin. Her son had been inducted in the same ceremony but we had not seen each other in the crowds. Our common ancestor was named Abraham. My father was named after him and my new inductee son has the same name in memory of my father. I could not help but be reminded of our joint history and of our common ancestors in Germany who could never have imagined their descendants, five or six generations forward, having the privilege of serving in the IDF. Where will our descendants be in five generations? Can we even think that far ahead? Is anyone even trying?
In Israel, the time span between Pesach and Shavout is not only about counting the Omer and the bonfires of Lag B’omer. This space is filled by Holocaust Remembrance Day, Independence Day and Jerusalem Day and it is during this period of time that we are all reminded where we come from and why we are here. Yet this particular day had yet another reminder of the continued danger to our existence.
The ceremony took place on the third day of an unseasonable and unbearable heat wave in Israel on Lag Ba-Omer – the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer. The tradition on the eve of Lag Ba-Omer is to light bonfires and it is possible that some of the forest fires on the day of the ceremony were sparked by the remnants of the bonfires from the night before.
As we left the ceremony we could clearly see the smoke and the flames from the surrounding fires. I could not help but be reminded of the recent flames of the Holocaust and our total helplessness as they advanced. Then, we ignored the smoke and had no means of extinguishing the flames,
I thought of the smoke and the flames which accompanied the children of Israel during their 40 years in the desert. I never totally understood their significance. On the Seder, when we mention them in the Hagaddah they always seem somewhat out of place. Today it all made sense. The smoke is a warning of the ongoing danger to our existence, that danger represented by that distant fire consuming everything in its path. We need to learn how to read the warnings and react in a timely fashion. It is our 712 new recruits to the Tank Brigade of the Israeli Defense Forces who will be battling the fire. Once the fire is ignited it is the winds and the weather that determine if it is able to be controlled. A wise leadership will know how to react to the warning so as to avoid igniting the fires. This year some small fires were ignited on Lag B’omer and were not extinguished in time. May our new recruits serve under a wise leadership that heeds warnings, and prevent fires when they can be prevented and ignite fires as a last resort with awe and trepidation knowing that once the fires are ignited they can not always be controlled.