Yom HaZikaron in Israel is incomparable to experiencing it abroad. The siren. The silence. The sentiment. The Achdut. The Amiut. Last year, I walked down Jaffa Street in Jerusalem and revisited sites of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. The site of the Sbarro Pizzeria Bombing on the corner of King George Street and Jaffa Street is now the home to a bakery, Maafeh Ne’eman, which I frequently visited over the course of my year in Israel. In the attack, 15 people were killed, including 7 children and a pregnant woman. 130 were wounded. We visited Davidka Square, where, on June 11 2003, 17 people were killed and over 100 were wounded in a bus bombing.
Finally, we visited Marzipan, a bakery which is my favorite in the whole city. We heard a recollection of the selfless help which Michael Levin z”l performed by assisting the bakery in volunteering during his year in Israel, and gave back the money which he made by selling the bakery’s goods. When he returned as a soldier in the IDF, Michael would come to the bakery and volunteer, in his Madim.
We paused alongside Israelis from every swath of the population at 11 AM to observe the moment of silence. We paused beside soldiers and students. Elderly individuals and children. Religious individuals and secular individuals.
It has been well documented that Israel’s population is perhaps the most tight-knit population, and Yom Hazikaron is (sadly) the most poignant example of this. It is nearly impossible to speak to someone who does not know someone who was killed innocently living a life infused with Judaeo-democratic ideals or in defense of the homeland, protecting these such ideals. Later on in the day, we had the honor of listening to the bereaved mother of Michael Levin, who had been a participant on our very program 19 years earlier, and was home visiting his family outside Philadelphia when the Second Lebanon War broke out. In defiance of the orders of his commanders, Michael returned to his company. Shortly after entering into battle, Michael was killed. Since his passing, a center has been established in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv in his name to provide a norm away from home for lone soldiers from around the world.
While not located on Jaffa Street, Frank Sinatra Cafeteria at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the cafeteria which I ate in on a daily basis for the duration of my first semester in Israel, was the site of a suicide bombing in 2002 which killed 9 people, including international students at the University and wounded 100 individuals.
On February 10, 2023, at the Ramot Junction, a location at the entrance to Jerusalem which I traveled through on a semi-weekly basis was the location where three people, including two brothers and a 20 year old man were killed by a car-ramming attack. Five people were injured.
Over Pesach, a mother and two of her daughters, Maia, z”l and Rina, z”l, were killed by terrorists while driving in the Jordan Valley during the 2023 Passover holiday. The Dee family’s story hits home quite poignantly, despite the lack of a personal connection between myself and the Dee family.
Just yesterday, there was an attack at the Shuk Machane Yehudah which five Israelis were injured in a ramming attack. I can vividly recall the numerous conversations which I have had at that exact location– with friends, with family; on the phone, in person. I would detail the events of that day to friends and family members about the idyllic events of the day– purchases made down the street, the new friends who I had met, or even the wonderful meal which I had just shared with a close friend.
While It is impossible to replicate the feeling of Amiut and Achdut which one feels on Yom HaZikaron in Israel while abroad, it is still a necessity to remember those whom have fallen in the defense of the State of Israel and those whose lives have been lost while living the values which the Chayalim have fought to preserve. We must remember those who we have lost so that we are able to appreciate what we have, tomorrow, on Yom HaAtzmaut.
As is said in the Tfilah L’Shalom Chayalei Tzavah Haganah L’Yisrael:
“כִּי יְיָ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם הַהֹלֵךְ עִמָּכֶם, לְהִלָּחֵם לָכֶם עִם אֹיְבֵיכֶם לְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֶתְכֶם. וְנֹאמַר: אָמֵן”