Twenty-three years ago, I heard the siren commemorating the start of Israel’s Memorial Day for the first time as an Israeli citizen. In fact, we had stepped off of the plane that brought us to our new life in Israel just hours earlier. Our first few days living in Israel were a whirlwind of sadness, celebration, and grilled meat.
Fast forward five years. Eighteen years ago, we decided to attend our local municipal ceremony on the eve of Memorial Day. My in-laws were here from NY, and we wanted to give them the full Israeli Memorial Day experience. We didn’t count on how difficult it would be to find parking near our local monument for fallen soldiers where the ceremony was taking place, so we were still walking toward the monument when we heard the wail of the siren. We stood perfectly still on the center median that divided the road and observed the moment of silence. Our three daughters, then eight, stood beside us with their heads bowed in respect as the siren pierced the stillness of the evening.
The sky was almost dark. I remember that the grass on the median was plush under my shoes, like a carpet. I remember watching the Israeli flags strung along the lamp posts gently blowing in the evening breeze. I remember thinking that this year, that this siren, was different.
At the time, I was heavily pregnant with our fourth child and only “sabra” (native Israeli), and I knew that I was carrying a boy. Until that moment in time, I was thrilled that I was carrying a boy after three girls. But as I heard that siren, the eerie reminder of how much this country has lost, I somberly realized that the day would come, way too quickly, when my baby boy would be wearing the uniform of an IDF soldier tasked with the tremendous collective responsibility of protecting our country and its citizens.
And in that moment, as the siren was broadcasting its message of loss and mourning across an entire nation, I closed my eyes and prayed, “Please, G-d, no more.” I know that it’s naïve, I know that it’s unrealistic, but all I could think was just, “No more.” No more fallen soldiers, no more terror attacks, no more funerals, no more violence, no more loss, no more sacrifice. Please, G-d, no more.
At that moment, even though my child was still unborn, I joined the ranks of Israeli mothers who know that at some point, they will be transferring guardianship of their child to the Israel Defense Force. It was a very emotional moment for me, filled with a mixture of fear and pride that is so familiar to those of us who live here.
When we lived in the United States, we had a babysitter who immigrated to the United States from India. When we told her that we were emigrating to Israel, she was both amazed and puzzled. “I thought that people only came to the United States, I didn’t realize that anyone left.” She could not fathom why anyone would leave the land of opportunity, much less to live in a country that is under constant threat.
Living in Israel isn’t easy, but I don’t know anyone who lives here because it’s easy. The most worthwhile things in life are fraught with difficulty. This country is full of meaning, spirituality, goodness, history, significance, and purpose. Its people are kind, generous, soulful, and deeply connected to both the land of Israel and to the nation of Israel. I can’t imagine raising my children with any other set of values.
For thousands of years, Jews were denied the privilege of living in our homeland. We were forced to live in the diaspora. I would have thought that the miracle of the modern State of Israel would have brought more Jews home, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. I respect the right of everyone to live as they wish, where they wish, but I’ll be honest here and admit that I can’t claim to understand how people can pray for the return to Zion on a daily basis and yet choose not to return.
Personally, I live in Israel because I can. I live here because it is my birthright. I live here because when G-d told Abraham to leave his father’s house and go to the land “that I will show you,” Israel is the land that G-d was referring to.
For me, Zionism is not something that I want to experience long distance; I like my Zionism up close and personal. I don’t just want to stand with Israel, I want to stand in Israel.
No longer a baby, or even a child, my Israeli born son is weeks away from his 18th birthday. Not only can I no longer protect him, but soon enough he is going to be the one protecting me. And as I stood a few feet away from him as the siren wailed across the country, marking the start of Memorial Day, when we mourn for the enormous loss of life that Israel has suffered, I closed my eyes and prayed once again, “Please, G-d, no more.”