This week, I will be commemorating Israeli Memorial Day. It’s a day to remember those we lost. This day is unique among other Memorial Days and unifies Israel as one family. Although I’m far away in New York, I have never appreciated being Israeli so much.
On Israeli Memorial Day, we don’t just remember the heroes in uniform who did sacrifice their lives for the protection of the country. We remember the victims of terror, who were murdered for just living their lives.
At the same time we honor our brave soldiers, we also remember the innocents who didn’t wear uniforms or had weapons to protect themselves. Their loss is no less painful, just because it happened when they were sitting on a bus, instead of on the battlefield.
In Israel, officers lead their men into battle, calling “follow me.” Therefore, they are more likely to fall in battle. In the previous military action of Protective Edge, out of the sixty-seven fighters who fell in battle, the majority of them held the ranked Staff Sargeant and above. This includes six captains, three majors, and a Lt. Colonel. They didn’t hide behind desks, they were out there sharing the dangers alongside those who serve under them.
On a personal note, I would like to honor the memory of my uncle, Lt. Colonel Yaakov “Yankale” Noifeld, a tank commander who bravely led his men into battle and fell in the Yom Kippur war. My uncle Yankale exemplified what it meant to be a leader. He constantly learned and improved himself, who was described as having a “special connection” with his soldiers, and worked hard to give his best service at every post. His memory serves as an example to so many, including myself. I just lit the candle just before editing this blogpost, after talking with my family. Even though it’s been forty-seven years since his passing, he is still missed and mourned.
I take comfort in one thing. At least, we know the names of those we are mourning, and they aren’t erased from history. Every person has a name and a story we can learn about.
That wasn’t always true for Jewish people. I posted on my company’s blog a list of anti-semitic murders in the 30-year period of the creation of Krav Maga. As I wrote, the Holocaust was the biggest massacre of Jews, but it wasn’t the first.
For centuries, Jews had been sheep helpless to wolves, and most of the time, they died nameless and forgotten. Last week, on Holocaust Memorial Day, I interviewed my mother. She said something heart-breaking. “There were many family members who we don’t know about, but these are the ones we definitely do know about.”
I have relatives who were murdered, who I can’t even mourn because nothing was left of them. I don’t know their names, I don’t know their faces, even though they were my cousins. I imagine my family as it should be, with at least twice the number of cousins on each side. I imagine what they might have looked like. What they might have done with their lives? It’s a loss I can’t even begin to understand.
My family mourns the loss of our uncle, but he is still remembered today in his kibbutz. His sacrifice wasn’t in vain, and the country he helped build still stands strong today.
As I look at the memorial candle burning next to me, I remember Israel comes with a huge price, but the price we paid for not having a state is far more.
Every class, I tell my own students in self-defense, never stop fighting for your right to survive. Today, I know that inspiration comes from those heroes, who showed it is better to die remembered, with guns in our hands, than die forgotten with guns at our heads.
At the same time, I tell them to celebrate life. As heartbreaking as today is, tomorrow will be Israel Independence Day, where we celebrate the full duality of life. We will have mourned those who we lost, and then we will celebrate those who are still here. We will honor the soldiers and police who are protecting our country, and the ordinary citizens who live here and build our country.
We must dry our tears and rejoice, as those we lost would want us to do. Their sacrifice wasn’t in vain and the country they fought for is worth celebrating.
Although I’m far away in New York, my heart is still in Israel with my country and I am so proud of who I am and where I come from.