Yom HaZikaron: An immigrant’s thoughts about the club no one wants to join

Just a short few words on being an immigrant on Yom HaZikaron…

This summer will be 26 years that we live here. More than a third of my life…and every year on Yom HaZikaron, I struggle between being grateful not to know anyone personally who was killed, and feeling like an outsider BECAUSE I don’t know anyone who was killed.

Sarah Cytryn, in her very moving post on FB this morning about being an immigrant mom of young children, summed it up very well, and literally this could have been me writing this 20 years ago…

This year is the first year that our 7 year old really understands what’s happening around her. On the drive to school she said to me, “Eemah, I don’t know who to be sad for today. I don’t know any soldiers who have died fighting for Israel.” I told her that she is lucky to not know anyone who has been taken from us for this reason, and I also understand that it might be hard for her to commemorate the day without that kind of connection. I told her about her father, aunt and uncles who all served in the army. I suggested that her father could share with her stories about friends who were lost. Our conversation quickly ended as we pulled into the parking lot of her school with this final thought…a tough one to swallow from my little girl, who is growing up way too quickly: “Eemah, I want to be a soldier too when I grow up. I want to protect Israel….” And then a pause, “But Eemah, I only want to be a soldier for a year or two. That way I can stop being a soldier before I get killed.”

Stomach punch…

I, too, had those conversations with our kids, Sarah, as I tried to help them understand and connect without having the actual connection. It’s the total opposite of Yom HaShoah, when I am the one who is, unfortunately, SO connected to the day with so many close relatives who were murdered. Two clubs that no one wants to belong to. In one I am a VIP member, and in one I am not even a member, and hope (pray, plead…) never to be…

For sure, having four children serve bravely in the IDF certainly makes you feel like you belong, but with gratitude to God, I still don’t have that personal connection. I have tried to overcome this feeling during these gut wrenching 24 hours by reading about soldiers who were killed, watching the heartbreaking TV clips, listening to the very, very sad radio broadcasts, and just feeling grateful for all of the sacrifice that made it possible for me to live here in relative peace.

And then, just like everything else when you are an immigrant, when your kids marry native Israelis, you get a little closer to the real thing. The conversation at the dinner table Friday night and at family events suddenly switches back and forth from English to Hebrew. You still aren’t 100% in the club (and again, I pray and beg never to be in this club) but you are a bit closer.

My sweet daughter in law Emuna Paz, lost her grandfather, Yechiel Paz Zlotshevski in the Yom Kippur War. Her dad, Avishay Paz, was 6 years old when his father, Yechiel, was killed. Avishay’s younger brother, Chilik (a nickname for Yechiel), was born after the death of their father, the third child to a newly widowed young woman. More stomach punch. And Moshe Karamani, my wonderful soon-to-be son-in-law, lost his first cousin, Eitan-Yaakov Maman in the tragic Helicopter Disaster in 1997, along with 72 other brave soldiers. I remember that horrific night well. Another massive spillage of blood for our people…If you can read Hebrew you can look for Moshe’s post on FB where he poignantly shares his family’s and his own loss with us. And again, if you can read Hebrew, you can read about both of these brave men’s lives on the official website https://www.izkor.gov.il/. ,where there is a page dedicated to the memory of every fallen soldier. Their names in Hebrew are יחיאל פז זלוטשבסקי  and  איתן-יעקב ממן

איתן-יעקב ממןיחיאל פז זלוטשבסקי

So today, 26 years later, thanks to Emuna and Moshe, I am a bit less of an outsider, but still an outsider, and, honestly, in this case, it’s ok with me.

One last thought…the fact that Emuna never knew her grandfather, and I never knew either of mine, albeit for different reasons, starkly encapsulates a good portion of the recent history of the Jewish people. She and I carry the scars of being a part of this nation whose blood spilled like water these last 80 years (and for centuries before that as well). The all-important difference is that her grandfather was killed defending the sovereign Jewish state and my grandfathers were murdered because there wasn’t one.

May the memories of all the men and women who were killed defending the Jewish State or for being a Jew in the wrong place at the wrong time, be forever bound up in the bonds of life.  יהי זכרם ברוך

About the Author
A 25 year Jerusalemite, Rena hails from South Jersey and got her BA and MA at Penn. After years as a devoted Jewish communal servant/ Zionist educator, today she loves the independence of working with her Rabbi/tour guide husband doing B’nei Mitzvah for families celebrating in Israel. The proud mother of 2 sons, 2 daughters, a daughter in law and a dog, her best days are when her children thank her for making aliyah.
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