“We remember with sadness the young lives cut short – each and every one of them an entire world.” – IDF Chief of Staff
Last night we began a very intense 48 hours in Israel; two of the most special holidays that connect all of the people here. First we have Yom HaZikaron. We remember our heroes. Those who died protecting this country. Those who enabled the existence of this country. The whole country cries for Memorial Day. Israel is so tiny, everyone knows someone. Someone who died, someone who lost a son, a girlfriend, a comrade from their unit. Everyone remembers.
The holiday begins with a siren and two minutes of silence, where we remember. The next morning we have another alarm with two minutes of quiet. Everyone stops what they’re doing and you feel the whole country somberly breathing with you, in pain. Tonight, as this holiday ends, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Independence Day) begins, our country is more united than ever, but this time united in happiness. We first spend 24 hours remembering those who lost their lives defending Israel, and then 24 hours celebrating the existence of Israel.
Here in Israel, people know how to commemorate, to appreciate, and most of all, how to celebrate.
We don’t take Israel’s existence for granted. In a country where everyone is drafted into the army, everyone has fought to keep peace and justice. In a world where Israel’s right to exist is constantly called into question and threatened by our neighboring enemies, the fact that tiny Israel exists and prospers is always a miracle. But more than a miracle, it’s something we all enable, something we are all connected to, something we fight for. The strength and courage of the Israel Defense Forces is why we have this country. I want to say thank you. Thank you to the past, present, and future soldiers who spend years providing a national service to this country. Thank you to their families who support them through their hard years of service.
My Yom HaZikaron
This is my second year celebrating Yom HaZikaron in Israel. Last year I wasn’t as close to so many Israelis and I thought of today as just another Memorial Day. However, last night I understood how much more this holiday means. I walked to a Yom HaZikron ceremony in Herzliya with my four roommates. My roommates are my best friends in Israel. They all had high ranking jobs in the IDF, dedicating many years to this country, some of them even signing on for more than the required three. As we walked to the ceremony (or “tekes” as you call it in Hebrew) we ran into my other closest Herzliya friend, our neighbor, an American who made Aliyah and is now a lone soldier in the army here. She joined us, in full uniform. As we got closer to the park the ceremony would be held at, we were met with masses of people, all walking to the same event. I sat down, surrounded by my closest friends and most of Herzliya. Babies, old people, hundreds, maybe thousands, waiting for the ceremony to start.
It began with the siren going off. We stood up in silence among the crowds of people. I felt chills run down my spine, as I heard the immense contrast between the earlier chatter of so many people, and the sudden mute of the crowd. Standing with all of those people, you get lost in the silence.
So many people around but you but an almost deafening silence aside from the siren. We understand in that moment, the shared respect we all have. Standing with my friends who have sacrificed so much for Israel. Also all of these people surrounding us who have probably done the same.
The fact that there are no cars on the street, that the entire country is at similar ceremonies, really brings us together. The religious and secular, we are all the same humble beings when we are crying over lost loved ones. Then the presentations began. I could hardly understand what was being said, as I am lacking in my Hebrew speaking capabilities. They began a slideshow of names and faces and then I understood. The people of Herzliya who died fighting for this country were displayed, and then those who were murdered by acts of terrorism. I was shocked to see the photos go on and on. I couldn’t believe how many people had been killed, from my little city. Each face was displayed on the screen just long enough for you to read the date they were killed. Just long enough for you to connect for a moment to this person who you never knew. Who might have been your best friend. A whole world behind the eyes of each one of them. The rest of the ceremony was a blur as I sat shocked, by all of the beautiful faces flashing before me. Most of them not old enough to have children. Most of them were children themselves, people who never even got to experience life. Throughout the faces, my friends I sat with mentioned when it was someone they knew. This is a life I have never known. I can’t imagine the pain of growing up, being a young adult, and losing your friends to battle and terrorism.
Sitting with my closest friends, I understood I was sitting with heroes.
I silently felt how lucky I was that all of them are safe, through their IDF service. But they will continue to serve this country every year through reserve duty (called “miluim”). Now I too have people I love fighting for Israel. Every year when I watch the faces of those killed fighting for Israel, and feel the heartbreak of the crowd, I will be thankful for my brave friends and thankful they weren’t among those killed. As a Zionist, I appreciate and mourn all of our fallen soldiers. Living in Israel, it becomes real. These soldiers are the people you see every day. We appreciate you and honor you today.
Altogether, there have been 23,085 killed defending Israel and 2,493 civilians killed by terrorism. On this sad day, we remember you. As the sun sets, and Yom HaZikaron turns into Yom Ha’Atzmaut, we won’t forget you. We will keep in mind all of the lost loved ones, while we celebrate the Israel you fought for. Thank you.
While I sit, writing my reflections on Yom HaZikaron, I hear the sad music coming from my TV. Only in Israel, do the television channels so truly reflect the feelings of the people. Through sad holidays such as today, only sad songs and memorial ceremonies will be on TV. Happy channels are empty, with a message displaying the time at which they will resume their usual programming. This is dedication. This is respect. This is Israel.
Even though I’ve celebrated Yom HaZikaron before, this is the first time I have felt a true Yom HaZikaron, with my Israeli soldiers. Today is Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, in Israel. Remember.