Those who sow in tears, will reap in joy. (Psalm 126:5)
I attended my first funeral when I was 19. The theme colour was purple. Hundreds of mourners from my IDF Givati unit were gathered to pay our final respects to one of our brothers-in-arms. After the appropriate prayers and psalms were recited, the silence of the military cemetery was shattered by the report of the honour guard. This was followed by the cries of family and friends as the flag-draped coffin was slowly lowered into the soil of Israel. All these years later the memory that sticks with me of that awful day is that everyone, from the Brigade commander to the family members, were united in grief for our brother who was killed in action defending our homeland.
It is no coincidence that Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) immediately precedes Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Independence Day), for without the former the latter would not be possible. The “hope of 2,000 years to be a free people in our land” (Hatikvah) only became a reality when we Jews took matters into our own hands. It is not enough to yearn, weep, hope and pray as the Jews did for almost two stateless millennia. One has to stand up and do what is right, to “walk the walk.”
One of the big lessons I learned in my regular IDF service and subsequent years of reserve duty was drummed into us during basic training. After running around for hours in the sun, we were given a few minutes to rest in our tent. We all flopped gratefully onto our camp beds. After a few seconds the sergeant stood outside and asked for a volunteer. Initially we all said: “Nu, somebody go out.” When there was no volunteer forthcoming, the sergeant shouted, “everybody out!” This scenario repeated itself until suddenly the realization dawned that sometimes one must step forward to be the “someone” who volunteers. In the words of Gandhi: “We must become the change we wish to see.”
This year, as we commemorate and pay tribute to the 23,835 casualties of war and terrorism on Yom Hazikaron, and celebrate our 73rd Yom Ha’Atzmaut, let us be grateful for those young men and women who give the best years of their life, and sometimes their very lives themselves, and are the people who step forward to keep our Zionist dream alive. Chag Sameach!