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To lose a friend

To lose a friend/ Peleg Laufer

To lose a friend is to feel that the whole world turned upside-down from one phone call
to lose a friend is to feel excited to see him, give him a tight hug, and then wake up
to lose a friend is to fall apart from a random song in your shuffle
to lose a friend is to remember happy moments that are now left only to you
to lose a friend is to be scared to forget things that only he was familiar with and knew
to lose a friend is to understand that when you are 60 you will continue missing a 21 year old boy

To lose a friend is to understand that you mature from hard slaps and not from caresses
to lose a friend is to learn to appreciate what you have and who you have
to lose a friend is to try to be the best person you can be to make up for the good that was lost
to lose a friend is to appreciate what he was to you and to understand that he will never return
to lose a friend is to burst from pride and still ask “Why him?”

In memory of Sergeant Major Jonathan Savitsky, may G-d avenge his blood

Today is a day we all dreaded since the 7th of October. Flags are at half mast, cemeteries are overflowing with living mourners, high school gyms are full with memories of fallen graduates. In short, Memorial Day has arrived. This year is an extraordinarily bad year. We don’t really need this day for mourning, every day since this war erupted is a sad day filled with death and memory. We are in a seemingly never-ending Yom Kippur, wondering who will die and who will live.

I mostly prefer to talk about our strengths and present an optimistic point of view. Today, right before Independence Day, is the day for a short pause in optimism and a time for reflection, memories, and self reckoning. It is a time we mix the personal and national to the point where we don’t know where one ends and one begins.

On the personal level, I think that Peleg (above) said things so eloquently that I have little to add. Unfortunately, he and others his age have lost far more even than one friend in this horrible journey. The young adults of our generation in Israel are now permanently altered. The survivors feel the burden of living for both themselves and for those who sacrificed their lives so we could continue living. They are scarred by their experiences and by the overwhelming loss. They are now wise beyond their years, never a good thing in my opinion.

You know how when watching a Die Hard movie, every once in a while you forget to suspend your disbelief and you think, “This is so ridiculous! It is even too ridiculous! Why am I even watching this?!” That is how I feel this Memorial Day. We have lost people to terrorist bombings, terrorist stabbings, warfare (land, air, and sea), tragic training accidents, fires, etc. Imagine the most horrible ways to die, and Israelis have experienced it (remember how young our nation is). The stories shared this year are exceptionally difficult, many with a strong connection to our experiences 80 years ago. Some even remind us of medieval times. It is surreal and hard to believe.  I don’t believe that any citizen has a whole heart left after all of this tragedy.

If someone made a movie about a person born in 1970 (like myself), it would look like a Bruce Willis movie.  From the Yom Kippur War (how did we even survive that one?) through too many wars to mention, through periods of incessant terrorist attacks, through bombings from countries as far away as Iraq, we continue to blow up, die and live. In my movie, one of the peak scenes would occur on my wedding day. I was getting my hair done in a shop within the market in Jerusalem. A bomb went off about 20 feet from us. Several people were killed, one of whom we knew a bit. Imagine witnessing violent death on your wedding day.  Believe when I say this is very tame compared to others’ experiences. Other stories would make better movies. But I would rather Israel were boring, and no movies could be made.

I also feel for the families that were torn apart by losing a family member. The death of a parent, partner, sibling, cousin, aunt/uncle leaves a physical hole in everyone’s lives. No one’s development will be the same. Orphans will grow without a parent’s love and nurturing, widows and widowers lose their joie de vivre, parents lose their hearts. Nothing is the same, and not for the better. This actually puts one more weight on our shoulders: to care for and provide support for the family members.

Are we worthy of their sacrifices? This is a question that haunts most of us, especially on this day. Some of the fallen made their sacrifices willingly and consciously, while others just went to dance and never came home. Why do we deserve to live when they do not? In psychology, this is called survivor’s guilt. In our case, I call it our state of being.  Each person has to find his or her own answer to that question. Some find answers in religion, through actions, and/or find meaningful purpose a la Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning). Others struggle on a daily basis with this question until it takes over. I hope and pray that they find peace.

On this day, I think and remember the fallen.  I hear their stories, see testaments of their lives, and salute their memories. I examine my actions trying to do better to honor the memories and dreams of those no longer here. Mostly, I look all around me at my fellow Israelis, and feel a grand sentiment of belonging and a sense of our shared fate.

About the Author
Nomi Venkert returned to Israel in 1988 when she was almost 18, expecting to stay for one year. She served in the army and studied psychology and education at the Hebrew University. Since 1997, she has been working with autistic people and their families in a wide range of areas (homes, family support, workplace). She now works as a socio-sex educator for teens and adults on the spectrum and people with intellectual disability in a public clinic and her private clinic. She is married with 3 adult children. In her spare time, she volunteers in several capacities. She has been in charge of her community's emergency response team for eight years, where she has gained perspectives on different aspects of our unique life style in Israel.
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