I remember watching the scenery flash by as my father maneuvered our family station wagon down the Garden State Parkway. Every once in a while, I would spot a bouquet of flowers, or a teddy bear, or a cardboard cross inscribed with a name on the side of the road.
Why are there flowers? I wanted to know.
People put them there to remember a friend or family member that died in a car accident near that spot, I was told.
This memory came bubbling to the surface on Friday, when I read about the heinous murder of Hannah Blandon, a British exchange student visiting Jerusalem, at the hands of a terrorist, who stabbed her multiple times in the upper body as they rode the light rail train together from the Old City towards downtown Jerusalem.
“The most terrible part is that we just move on,” a commenter responded to the article. “I passed by the exact place she was killed, just a few hours later, and it was as if nothing ever happened.”
I can understand this sentiment. The swiftness with which we Israelis tend to get back to our everyday routine after the life of a fellow human being, and more often than not, a fellow Israeli, is violently ripped from this world, can appear callous.
Where are the flowers, the teddy bears, the candlelight vigils?
I imagined Jerusalem as a garden. So many memorial bouquets, there is no room to walk. The streets are dug up, replaced with fertile earth, and planted with blossoms of all colors and hues — riotous oranges, subtle pinks, regal purples. It’s breathtaking in both its beauty and sadness.
And then I remember the picture of my grandfather’s grave. I was young, and wasn’t allowed to go to the cemetery. And my father, a Kohen, was not allowed to visit the grave after the funeral. Once the headstone was put up, my aunts took a picture for him.
Why are there rocks on the grave? I wanted to know.
Burying the dead is a mitzvah, and placing a rock on the grave is a symbol of taking part in that mitzvah. Jews don’t do flowers, I was told.
Jews don’t do flowers, we do mitzvot. We remember the dead and honor the dead by doing good in their names. We give hope, we save lives, we push for peace, we demand justice and equality. We dust ourselves off and keep moving, even in the face of unspeakable tragedy, because we are Israel- – a colorful little bouquet on a deadly stretch of highway. We remember the fallen, we say. And in every step taken towards a better future, in every good deed, every kind word exchanged, their names will be honored.