Two sirens. At 20:00 (8:00pm) last night, the first went on. It marked the beginning of Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism, in which we remember those who lost their lives protecting and serving the State of Israel, and those murdered in senseless acts of terror. At that moment, I was in attendance at the ceremony at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. The ceremony, mixing songs of memorial sung live by famous Israeli singers, poems by national poets, and pre-recorded video clips of families discussing their fallen loved ones, was extremely moving. More moving was that we all, all of us in attendance, and likely those watching from home on their televisions, cried together.
Memorial day in Israel is a day wrought with meaning. Discard your images of memorial days abroad. You know the ones to which I’m referring – the days with great sales in the stores, barbeques with friends, parades memorializing battles long past. Rather, imagine a day of national mourning. For in Israel, not a single person is untouched in some way, by the death of a soldier or a victim of terror. Everyone has lost someone, or knows someone who has lost someone. Jew, Druze, Christian, Muslim – everyone has lost someone. In Israel, memorial day is one which pains the national psyche, for we know, that without the sacrifices of our brave young men and women, we would not be here today. Our country is not so old, nor so big, as to allow for a vague idea of pain to take the place of grief. As Yehuda Amichai wrote “We have no unknown [anonymous] soldiers.” The pain felt by every Israeli is real and acute.
As the second siren went off this morning at 11:00, an interesting thought went through my brain which, even as I sit now, in a peaceful coffee shop on a busy street, I have trouble to grasp in full. It occurred to me that this pain, this national agony and mourning; this, too, is a part of our strength. We do not praise death, nor do we revere it. We agonize over it, we grieve, and we acknowledge the sacrifices made by our deceased. And in their honor, we live. We build a country which, against the odds, thrives. We attempt to create a new country, a new state of being, in which war will end, and deaths of soldiers and the murder of our civilians in senseless acts of terror will be in the past. For we, as a country, and as a people, have felt the pain that no one ought to feel, and we have decided that while in the short term we may not be able to stop it, we will work to ensure that in the long term, perhaps our children’s children, will not feel this pain.
Z”L. May their memories be blessed.