The silence at the military cemetary

This blog post is overdue. I meant to write it on 11 June, following my annual visit to my fallen husband’s grave at the military cemetery in Kiryat Shaul, Israel, where he had been berried for over 50 years.

Being occupied with my big family I delayed my writing until my return to the United States.

Upon my arrival there, I have been overcome, like other caring individuals the world over, not with my own family, but with the fate other families who have been affected by President Trump’s reprehensible immigration debacle.

I’d write about that first, I thought, meaning to concentrate on the president’s policy of separating children from their parents in order to dissuade them from seeking refuge in the Unites States. News reports that children were snatched from their parents under the pretense that they needed to be showered or bathed, and Trump’s rhetoric, referring to undocumented immigrants as infestation, reminded me of Nazi Germany. Passionate about the Holocaust, I meant to write a blog about that. But others had already said what I wanted to express.

So here I am, back to the cemetery. After countless visits the place still mesmerized me for obvious reasons: its enormous size that is still expanding; the ages of the fallen, beginning with eighteen year old teenagers; its lush greenery that is being gardened so diligently, its trees that have grown older, unlike the dead who would forever remain young. And the quiet that surrounded me, which was the subject I wanted to write about. It was a proper quiet to which I was listening; an honorable silence that suited the place I was visiting.

11 June corresponded with the Gregorian date my husband Yigal succumbed to his fatal injuries. Ordinarily Jews follow the Hebrew calendar when they commemorate the anniversary of their loved one’s parting. Had I been able travel to Israel and visit Yigal’s grave observing that Jewish dictate, I would have done so on May 17. In the cemetery I would be standing most likely alongside other bereaved Israelis who lost family members and friends during the Six Day war.

But on 11 June I was alone. The silence around me was both deafening and comforting. All I heard was an occasional bird chirping and the sound of the wind rustling through the pine and oak trees, and the tall and slender cypresses. Looking so regal, I likened those cypress tress to the young man whose grave I was visiting.

Perhaps the trees are trying to tell the soldiers’ stories, I thought, while watching rows upon rows of identical gravestones. I too tried to imagine the lives of the buried. My thoughts were interrupted when I saw a woman appearing from another part of the cemetery, leaving the premises. Was she a bereaved mother, wife, sister, friend? I could not tell. Once again I was alone, until I saw a couple also leaving the other part of the cemetery. Then solitude once more.

A bee was sucking nectar from the red blossoming flowers surrounding the graves and from the sunflowers I had just placed in a ceramic vase on Yigal’s grave. I had bought that vase 51 years earlier. Life goes on even here, I though, leaving.

On my way out I encountered two young soldiers, teenagers really, who had just entered the cemetery. “Shalom, and good day,” we greeted each other, my voice quivering. They must have been visiting a friend I thought, this time tears running down my face.

The writer is the author is the memoir WAR WIDOW: HOW THE SIX DAY WAR CHANGED MY LIFE.

About the Author
Dr. Ziva Bakman-Flamhaft is a lecturer in Political Science at Queens College/CUNY, a Fulbright scholar, and a memoirist. In 1968 as a young war widow in Israel, she became an activist and a mentor to other war widows. A year later she arrived in the US to serve her government and remained in New York ever since. Her first book Israel on the Road to Peace: Accepting the unacceptable was published in 1996. In addition, she has published numerous articles, book reviews and book chapters including “From Sufferers to Activists: Israeli and Palestinian Women Talk on War, Bereavement and Peace,” and “Iron Breaks Too,” on the same subject. Two chapters from her memoir were printed in different publications. Inspired by the 2015 Nobel laureate, Svetlana Alexievich, who documented human suffering by tyranny and war, Flamhaft plans to publish her interviews of Israeli women and her Palestinian assistant in a book form.