Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

Israel. Yom Hazikaron, 2018

It’s Yom Hazikaron here, and it is all enveloping. Radio, TV; the sirens, the ceremonies. People streaming to cemeteries.

One story after the other, so the losses are not just numbers but faces, beautiful faces, and names. And particulars of personalities: music; sports; gifted at school, or hated school. Goofiness; seriousness. Love and connection. Interviews with sisters; brothers; fathers, mothers; grandparents, friends. Regular people, no one is a professional on radio; story after story. It is a reminder of the seriousness of all this. The randomness of chance.

The stories are from the first war, 1947-48, and unfortunately and mind-bogglingly, on, and on, from there. Film last night about a family from Stuttgart, Germany; the parents managed to get their two, teenaged sons out, Uri and Bezalel, to Palestine. Neither parent survived; mother, killed in 1942 (“the worst year in Jewish history”; father made it to 1944, almost made it). The boys heard about it here. Each boy went to a kibbutz. One was killed in a British action as the Mandate was ending and there were serious clashes between Jews and the British. The other, devastated, went to help found a kibbutz in the south, near Gaza (then of course, just part of Egypt). With the outbreak of war in 1948, he was killed by invading Egyptian forces. An entire family, wiped out. No zekher.

Except. There was a young woman, very much in love with Uri. Devastated after his death, she bonded with Bezalel. After he, too, was killed, she married someone, they lived amicably; it was never the love of her life. But she had two children, one of them, named –something; but before this mother died, she told her daughter that her real name was — Orit. When her husband died, this mother had him buried near Uri, so that she could be buried next to him.

The two now very adult children have their mother’s scrap book of photos of Uri, of Bezalel, and have figured this story out.

Then there are the stories from then till now, including most recently. Heart-rending songs. Many locations last night where thousands came and famous singers and musicians played, songs interspersed with projected photos and videos of the person who was killed, some version of the story of his life, and death; his or her family, sitting in the audience. I went to one of these, the big one, in Tel Aviv last year; searing. The need for them is so great, there are now several mega-such events, as well as myriad smaller ones.

The estimate is that 1.5 million people will go to the cemeteries today. The total population is 8.4 million. Public transportation on the light rail line in Jerusalem to Har Herzl is free today. Yad Sarah, the organization that supports handicapped people, offering free vans to that massive military cemetery.

Life definitely goes on, exuberantly, even. But so many scarred people, going on with life. The heroism of everyday life is all around us.

Some of this hits very close to home.

It’s a very tough day.

Just to say: this place is infinitely precious. And does not come cheap.

Wishing strength to those who need it. Hashem oz le’amo yiten, hashem yevarekh et amo be’shalom. lu, lu yehi. May God give strength to his people, and bless them with peace. If only, if only.

And knowing full well that peace will not, does not, descend, but is made. Wish I had some hope in that regard. For all that, I know so well that all we can do — is what we can do, and there is always something we can do. And must, if these horrible stories are to end

About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College. She is the author of four published books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. Her new book is the first history of agunot and iggun from medieval times to the present, across the Jewish map. It also presents analysis and critique of current policy on Jewish marital capitivity and proposals to end this abuse. Entitled, "Thinking Outside the Chains About Jewish Marital Captivity," it is forthcoming from NYU Press. She is a founder of women's group prayer at the Kotel and first-named plaintiff on a case before the Supreme Court of Israel asking enforcement of Jewish women's already-recognized right to read Torah at the Kotel. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, Moment, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post.