I write these words having just returned from the cemetery following the annual military ceremony marking Israel’s Memorial Day.
Like unfortunately all too many Israelis I stood by the grave of my beloved son Yonatan z”l, who was killed by the Hezbollah in 1993 while bravely participating in a dangerous rescue mission in Israel’s then security zone in southern Lebanon.
Jonathan’s military gravestone, like so many others, was covered with wreaths and flowers as family, friends and soldiers from his unit gathered to commemorate our dead, who gave their lives in defence of our country.
Apart from Yom Kippur, this is the holiest day in Israel’s calendar. When the sirens sound at 11 am, everything comes to a standstill. Those who are driving stop their cars even on major highways, get out and stand at attention as a sign of respect for the dead without whom there would be no Israel.
Standing at Jonathan’s graveside as the sirens wailed, I looked around at the thousands of people, young and old, religious and secular, who had come together as one people leaving aside the religious and political differences that normally divide them. When we mourn, those divisions melt away, becoming seemingly superficial and irrelevant as we share our grief.
Given that fact, the absence of the ultra-Orthodox charedim from Israel’s military cemeteries on Yom HaZikaron is all that more conspicuous. Precious few of them have lost loved ones in defence of our right to live in Israel. They enjoy the fruits of a sovereign Jewish State, but do not pay the price.
While our young are devoting some of the best years of their lives to military service, they are studying in their yeshivot. And when older Israelis leave their families and workplaces to undertake reserve duty, many of them are still studying in kollelim funded from the public purse. Of course, there are exceptions, but precious few.
Perhaps more than any other day in the year, Remembrance Day brings into stark contrast the difference between those who paid the ultimate price in defence of our country and those who view them as the “Messiah’s donkey”, who are just there to do the “dirty work” from which they themselves benefit….