Rising from the ashes

Tonight, we will mark the start of Yom HaZikaron in Israel. Israel’s Memorial Day for the fallen. I remember having to once meagerly attempt to explain to my husband why in the U.S. we commemorate Memorial Day differently. My answer was weak. I did not honestly know. When I was young I did not stand in a moment of silence for our fallen or light a candle in their memory. I was not told to wear a specific color to mark the occasion or even share a story about a soldier. But here, that is all very different.

Tonight, when I will light the memorial candle, and stand for the siren that will wail across the country, I will watch my husband. I will watch him bow his head and not think of the tragic stories which I tell of life taken far too soon. Of the Fogel family, or Michael Levine. Baruch Mizrachi or Rachel Levy. He will think of them as well. But he will think of friends. People he grew up with and stood shoulder to shoulder with. The very people he laughed with. And occasionally, cried with. This is the one day out of the year where he opens up and shares their stories. He will speak about Eliel. Who was killed fighting against Hezbollah in 2006. And how he was named for his uncle, who was also killed in Lebanon. He will speak about Michal, one of his sister’s closest friends. Murdered on a bus in Jerusalem just months after her wedding. He will remind me how close he was…so many times; as both a soldier and a young Jerusalemite. I will shed tears for the mere thought. Shed tears for the lives lost far too soon. And light the candle for them.

But this year will also be different for me. This is the first year that we will commemorate Yom HaZikaron as parents. For me, as a mother, looking at my young daughter, reminds me of the sacrifice so many have made before her, and continue to make, in order to ensure that the place she calls home, will be safe for her. Because of the sacrifice of Eliel Ben-Yehuda, Uriel and Eliraz Peretz, Michael Levine, and so many others, she is safe.

As we reflect on this day where thousands of Israelis have lost their lives in Israel’s wars and attacks against the Jewish state, I am faced with the dilemma of thinking forward. Thinking forward just a few years, where my young daughter will not innocently watch the flame of the memorial candle flickering away but will ask why? What does this day mean? And what I will tell her is that she is a part of a great people and nation. I will tell her that so many of these people fought to make sure that her, and all the children in Israel, will be safe. I will change the way I explain everything to her as she gets older and can understand more. I will share, as every Israeli mother does, my hope that she never has to put on a uniform. But I will also share with her every Israeli mother’s reality and fear; that she will.

Tomorrow, when my baby wakes from her peaceful slumber, I will wash her face. And comb her hair. She will smile at me with her one visible tooth and giggle as I tickle her. I will dress her in a tiny white onesie. And little blue pants. I will make sure she marks this day with her nation; a great nation. She won’t understand, and will probably dirty the pants and have to be changed after crawling and climbing through every crevice. But I will know. I will know as a mother that I will raise my daughter to be proud of the nation she was born into. I will know that I will teach her and hope to, inspire her. I also know that after we mark the difficult day that begins this evening, we will move into celebration. Celebrating our independence, our democracy and our freedom. She will celebrate with us for the first time, and eat tiny portions of a BBQ celebration with her family; with more ending up on the floor than in her tummy. And she will laugh and smile and play. All the while, I will know that it is because of the sacrifice of so many, we get to enjoy this moment. And I will continue to educate in their memory and teach her, and others, about the great nation she is a part of.

About the Author
Michelle Rojas-Tal is the Jewish Agency's central Shlicha to Hillel International and Director of the Israel Fellows Program. The Jewish Agency for Israel Fellows program brings nearly 80 young emissaries to campuses across North America and close to a dozen across the globe to serve on college campuses. Michelle and her family are currently on Shlichut and living in the greater D.C. area from Jerusalem. She has devoted her life's work to Israel and the Jewish people.