Daphne Lazar Price

Reflections on Yom HaZikaron 5784 and Keeping the Stories Alive

Grieving at Har Herzl. courtesy of the author

My spouse and I attended the Israeli embassy’s official Yom HaZikaron commemoration event on Sunday evening. Hosted at a highly secured location, the venue’s hallways were lined with pictures of dozens of people, young and old, who made the ultimate sacrifice and are  now forever frozen in time.

We listened to the friends and family of brave heroes who were killed in the line of duty – from the time of the establishment of the State of Israel, through the horror and aftermath of October 7, as they tried to rescue civilians on the kibbutzim that were attacked by terrorists on that horrible day.

The evening began with the siren – the same siren that you hear throughout Israel on Yom Hazikaron – its wail setting the tone. Throughout, we prayed together — reciting Yizkor, Kaddish, and El Maleh Rachamim. We heard eulogies. We listened to women beautifully sing melancholic songs of loss and longing for peace.

I couldn’t help but think back to being in Israel on October 7, waiting and waiting to learn the full scope of the tragedy. The truth turned out to be far worse than the rumor, and until this day, I don’t think I will ever be able to fully wrap my mind around the full scope of the tragedy. On October 8 and 9 and 10 (and on and on), the names of those killed in battle kept coming. There were some who we knew; some whose names we recognized; some who were just a degree of separation away.

Then in January of this year, I helped lead a joint Jofa/Maharat solidarity mission to Israel. There, at the gates of Har Herzl, we met with Sarit, mother of the fallen soldier, Ben Zussman. I had not known her before, but as is often the case in Israel, she is closely related and connected to so many people in my life. There she stood, telling us about Ben’s life and his recent death. He, too, is now part of this day of remembrance.

As we quietly entered Har Herzl, these were some of the images that captured my attention: There were the older graves that have been visited and tended over time, as evidenced by the many mementos left on the grave markers, commemorating so many memories left behind. They stood alongside dozens and dozens of freshly dug graves. This sight knocked the wind out of me. As I passed each new grave, silently praying and placing stones, I noted their names and ages. Each so very young; each a world unto themselves – physically gone, but their memories still very much alive.

As I took a step back, I noticed people weeping at the feet of grave markers. Some of the mission participants stopped to offer comfort and ask questions. Most mourners were eager to share: an officer mourning a unit member; a father mourning his son. Each wanted to share memories of their loved ones, who could now only live on through these shared memories.

At the end of our visit, one of the mission participants began to sing a stirring El Maleh Rachamim, to which everyone in that cemetery section quietly answered Amen.

Returning to last night’s event, a senior Israeli officer who was a good friend of 42 year old Lieutenant Colonel Eli Ginsberg, z”l, read sections of Ginsberg’s wife, Malky’s eulogy. Lt. Col. Ginsberg had completed 20 years of military service just weeks before October 7. But when he heard about the attacks, he couldn’t not go.

We learned of his dedication to his family, his wife and four children, and to his country. At the end of Malky’s eulogy, she pledged: “I will share your story. I will tell about your contribution and your courage at every opportunity.” Now his story, her story, are ours to tell, too.

I think this is the most important thing that we take with us: That we must actively, continually, persistently bear witness and keep the stories alive. It is said that when someone dies, they die twice. The first time is when they stop breathing. The second is when we stop breathing their names.

Yom Hazikaron is a day that has always stood to ensure that we never forget to actively remember. A day when we honor memories and sacrifices, share stories, and recite names. May all of their neshamas have aliyahs. It is a day when we comfort friends and families. A day when we pray that this will be the last war — we pray for peace, so that we cease to add any more names to this day of remembrance.

May it be so. Amen.

About the Author
Daphne Lazar Price is the Executive Director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) and an adjunct professor of Jewish Law at Georgetown University Law Center. She is active in the Orthodox community in her hometown of Silver Spring, MD, where she lives with her husband and two children.
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