When we originally decided to come live in Israel for a few months I secretly wanted to live here for an entire year. I wanted to experience all of the Jewish holidays in the holy land at least once in my life. In the past three months I have celebrated Purim and Passover here. I loved the celebrations and cherished the experience. I savored the meals with friends, the prayers at the Kotel and the holy atmosphere making each holiday alive and real.
Last Sunday night, May 4th, at 8pm a siren sang through Jerusalem. I was with my best friend walking her to a lecture. We stood together in silence outside the building filled with people standing straight and proud. The siren let the citizens of Jerusalem know that Yom Hazikaron had started. We are a people of the moon. Our days start at sundown. I was told by several people that Yom Hazikaron was a very special day in Israel. TV stations honor the deceased for 24 hours. Two sirens are heard, one in the evening when Memorial Day starts and one in the morning at 11am. I didn't know what to expect but I was very open to any experiences coming my way.
Yom Hazikaron is translated as "Day of Remembrance for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism," it is Israel's Memorial Day. In 1949 and 1950, the two years after the declaration of the State, soldiers who died during the War of Independence were honored on Independence Day. Their families argued for a separate Memorial Day and so Yom Hazikaron was created, to be celebrated the day before Independence Day. Originally the day was only meant to honor deceased soldiers; however, as Israeli citizens became victims of terrorist attacks (i.e., bus bombings, rockets, suicide bombers killed innocent people) Yom Hazikaron became a time to remember and honor all killed by our enemies.
The next day I took Aaron to daycare and I attended a special lecture given by Rabbanit Golda Warhaftig at my seminary. If you are ever in Israel and have an opportunity to hear her speak, do it. She is an unbelievably amazing speaker. I wish I taped her speech. Rabbanit Warhaftig immigrated to Israel in the 1960's from England. She has been here since the Six Day War and has seen Israel grow into a thriving country. She has children who live on settlements - she is a pioneer of this country. She is a true zionist. Unfortunately, she has also seen people she know become victims of terror.
She started her speech by mentioning that over 25,000 Israelis have died due to terrorism. And then, she slightly shook her head and said, "these people are not a number, they are a name. They are a story." She proceeded to tell us stories of people she knew who were murdered by terrorists. One of the first stories was about an American, the only son, who decided to join the Israeli army and fight in the front lines. He died, leaving a grieving family behind. And then she told us about a husband and wife who moved to a settlement, had a child, and were stabbed repeatedly in their sleep. The husband was killed and the pregnant wife ran from the house to a neighbor's house as she spilled blood on the rocky ground. She lost her baby and her husband in the same night. This woman, Mara, lay in bed broken as her mother-in-law sat beside her, touched her arm and told her,"listen Mara, when you get remarried, I'm still your mother-in-law." Mara did remarry and had twins with her new husband.
Then she shared a story about a soldier who was kidnapped. His mother saw him on the tv with two guns pointed at his head. His parents rallied the Jewish people together to the Kotel to pray begging God to return their son. Rabbanit Warhaftig said she never saw the Kotel as packed as it was that day. It was filled with all Israelis - secular and religious. We are one family. When one of us is hurting, we are all hurting. The boy was killed. Afterwards his father was on television, the interviewer asked him how did he feel after his son was murdered despite the prayers of so many people. His father responded, "sometimes father says no." The last story she shared was of an engaged soldier who wrote a love letter to his fiancee before serving on the front line. He died and his note was found when they were sitting shiva. For a room full of seminary girls mainly unmarried reading his love note out loud was a delightful setting for an excessive amount of tears. The part where he apologized for not being the man who would make her happy for the rest of her life nearly broke the room.
Each story was shared to bring the person back to life. Rabbanit Warhaftig explained that Memorial Day is not for the families who have lost their loved ones. The families mourn every single day. A parent never stops mourning for their child (mayIt's for everyone to mourn the loss of each individual. We are to learn their stories in order to bring them back into the world, even for a moment. The week before was Holocaust Remembrance Day or in Hebrew: Yom HaShoah. Rabbanit Warhaftig shared a story about her grandson. At seven years old he came with a yahrzheit candle. On the candle was the name of a Holocaust victim. The candle is traditionally lit on the anniversary day a loved one dies and it burns for 24 hours. It is a memorial candle. The children were given candles of people who perished with no one left alive in their family. No one was left to mourn them. No one was left to remember them. They became a number, a statistic quoted in class. She shared how proud she was that he lit the candle in memory of the man who died due to senseless hatred.
We are a people of the past. If the past is not remembered, we cannot know who we are and where we are going. Rabbanit Warhaftig explained that just as an amnesiac does not know what to do because they cannot remember what they did, we cannot assume to grow and fulfill our highest intention if we do not remember where we started.
I left the lecture speechless. I was shocked and honored to experience such an amazing speaker who really brought down the meaning of Memorial Day for all of us in the room. I wish America would do the same for our fallen soldiers. We lose precious men and women every day fighting in other countries trying to save the world and protect our nation. Unfortunately Memorial Day was meaningless to me. It would do our nation good to have the news actually honor our soldiers for 24 hours so we can all understand the depth of their sacrifice.
I rushed from seminary to Aaron's daycare. I wanted to experience the 11am 2 minute siren at Jaffo - a main street in Jerusalem. I ended up frustrated, stuck on the train at 10:57 at the Central Bus Station. I was going to experience the siren on the train. I was so sad. And then, when the siren sang, old and young, religious and secular stood up in silence to remember our loss. As I stood there filled with grief I looked next to me and was surprised to see an Arab woman sitting talking on her cellphone. An Arab man sat across from her. Neither stood to honor our heroes. I could not see one Jew who gave them a second glance - we are, after all, the only true democracy in the Middle East. Seeing first hand the strength of Israel's freedom allowed me to break through my disappointment.
When the sun set Israel transitioned from mourning to celebratory as Independence Day was kicked off with fireworks and partying in the streets. Memorial Day was intentionally set for the day before Independence Day to remind everyone the cost of freedom.
To be continued...
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I'm a mom. A writer. A lover of good fantasy. A proponent of nursing when possible. A birth advocate. I am absolutely horrible at keeping my house clean or the dishes washed or the laundry done. I strongly believe in women having a positive birth. When we start to respect women's rights to birth the way they want, we can start to treat women as equal people in this world.
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