The week of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut
This is not a complicated mathematical equation. In fact, most fourth or fifth graders would be able to solve this problem fairly easily and quickly. No big deal. These are only numbers, factors in a mathematical equation. But it is the product of this equation, the actual number that is far from simple, far from being just a number. The product of this equation is astounding, stunning, not because of the grandness of this number alone, but in what it represents. Specifically, what this number represents for Israel.
62×365=22,630. These numbers represent 62 years since Israel became it’s own independent state. Multiply 62 by 365 days in a year (without the added on days for leap years) and the answer is 22,630. This past Monday, Yom Hazikaron, we memorialized all of the soldiers who died defending Israel since the founding of the state in 1948 and all of the victims of terror. There have been 22,682 soldiers who fell defending Israel. This number does not include the more than 2,000 victims of terror since the founding of the modern Jewish state. Now let’s think about that for a moment. There has been, on average, at least one soldier killed everyday since May 14, 1948, ח“שת רייא ה. A very sobering statistic.
Yom Hazikaron started Sunday night. There were many ceremonies marking the start of this heart wrenching day, most notably, the official state ceremony at the Kotel. I had wanted to attend that one but it didn’t work out. Yechezkel attended a ceremony with the soldiers from his unit at Givaat Hatachmoshet or Ammunition Hill, the site of fierce battles for Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, which now holds a museum to commemorate the soldiers who died fighting for Jerusalem, and events that took place there. Prime Minister Netanyahu and other dignitaries and military personnel spoke there. He then made it home just in time to attend the ceremony marking the start of the day at our local park in Maale Adumim, which by the way is called Central Park. The ceremony began with the sounding of the siren at 8PM when everything stops and everyone stops what he is doing to stand silently in place remembering. We then sat on the lawn and listened to poems and letters written by bereaved family members, or, even more poignantly, and sadly, by soldiers prior to their deaths to their loved ones. The chief rabbi of Maale Adumim blessed the soldiers of Israel and prayed for the return of Gilaad Schalit. There were soft, sad songs sung by male and female soldiers, Kaddish recited by a bereaved father, El Male Rachamim, and of course, the song of hope, Hatikva which closed the ceremony. It was a very emotional evening.
On Monday, Yechezkel wanted to attend the official ceremony at Har Herzl, the national military cemetery, and I chose to join him. Eitan had school and an assembly was held there, in which a surviving soldier from a battle in the south described his experiences, how he was injured and lost his friends. He cried, and from what I understand, the audience of students and teachers kept absolutely silent….spellbound. I attended a ceremony at Yemin Moshe with my Ulpan and then met Yechezkel for the Har Herzl ceremony. Now I must tell you that I have been to Har Herzl before but never on Yom Hazikaron and never with a son in uniform. Walking amongst fallen soldiers graves with your son in Israeli military uniform puts a whole other dimension on this day. (I had intended on sending some pictures with this email, but Meyer took the cable and disc with him to NY. I’ll have to send the pictures with the next email). I was emotional and teary from the very beginning. At the entrance to Har Herzl, we were given Yizkor stickers to wear on our shirts, handed flowers to place on a grave, a memorial candle to light at a grave, and Tehillim and Kaddish booklet. Yechezkel was in full uniform, with beret, and sleeves rolled down. We walked to try to get as close as possible to the formal ceremony so that we would be able to hear everything. Yechezkel very much wanted to settle on one grave to stand by when the siren sounded. But I, in my inimitable way, decided that we should get closer. So we walked and walked through the crowd, with the brutally hot sun beating down on us, and came to an area from which we couldn’t progress. Ok, someone please remind me that I am not a 15 or 20 year old anymore!!! I wanted to move ahead but the only way was to walk back from where we were to a main path. The sounding of the siren was nearing, it was crowded, so I decided to jump down from a height of four or five feet, not so bad, and Yechezkel followed. The only problem was, Yechezkel landed on both feet. So did I, but then fell on one knee. Ok, so there I was, with my macho 20 year old son who had to help his foolish mother up because she leaned forward too far and fell, and who now had a bloody knee with no gauze, no tissue, no Band-Aid, no nothing. No big deal. I was not about to miss the ceremony by seeking medical attention. (So now a mildly infected knee linger). We proceeded forward, and at 10:50 am, settled on a memorial grave to fighters who fought before 1948. Silence descended on this cemetery with its thousands of visitors even before the siren sounded. When it did, Yechezkel stood erect, at attention, I with my head bowed, thinking of these lost souls. Yechezkel laid the flowers there and we then listened to Netanyahu speak about losing two of his friends in battle, of the loss of his brother in the Entebbe raid, and of the losses of all of those buried there. Shimon Perez and Gabi Ashkenazi (Israel’s military chief) also spoke. All spoke of the bravery and courage of the soldiers and the families.
We continued to walk to see other graves. All of the tombstones told the story of how the particular soldier died: if in battle, which one and on what date; if in training accident, where and on what date. Sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and father, friends. Mostly all in their 20’s and 30’s, some older. From the war of 1948 through last year’s Cast lead and unfortunately, even this year already. We went to see the grave of Michael Levin. Michael Levin was a young man from Philadelphia who attended the year long Nativ USY program in Israel after high school and decided that he wanted to immigrate to Israel and serve in the IDF. Three years later, he did. He picked up and moved to Israel, joined the army and served in a paratrooper’s unit. As a soldier with family living abroad, he was entitled to a 30 day visit home each year. In the summer of 2006, he went home to Philadelphia, but as the second Lebanon war broke out, he cut his vacation short to return to his unit to fight in Lebanon. He was killed a week later, one of three soldiers killed that day. His dreams and aspirations to live and serve and defend Israel represent for Yechezkel the finest attributes of a Jewish young man. We approached the grave with its throngs of visitors surrounding the grave and were able to speak to his parents. Yechezkel described his feelings to Michael’s father who was very touched and gave Yechezkel a blessing of a sort wishing him success and thanking him for sharing his feelings of Michael with him. I also of course, expressed my sympathy to his parents and thanked Mr. Levin for his heartfelt wishes for Yechezkel. I also silently prayed.
Shortly after visiting Michael Levin’s grave, Yechezkel met a friend and as they were talking, I watched people. Next to Michael Levin’s grave sat a man, a police officer, alone, at the grave of his son perhaps? Or his friend? I didn’t know, but he looked so alone, in contrast to the Levin gravesite which had many visitors. He was so sad. A tragic figure amongst so many tragic figures. I wanted to go over and hug him. But I watched him for a while, even photographed him to try to capture the feeling, the moment. The tragedy of it all. Yechezkel told me to go over to him and as I was about to do so, he got up and left. Poor man. We also went to see the grave a Roi Klein, another brave, courageous soldier who died saving his comrades. He jumped on a grenade to save his soldiers.
There are so many, too many stories like these. Har Herzl that day was filled with a sea of people shedding a river of tears.
Back to my boo boo for a minute: Finally, someone saw that I was bleeding and offered me a band aid and alcohol swab which she carried in her knapsack. So I graciously accepted, cleaned my knee and bloody leg somewhat, and placed the band aid on my knee. The girl then told Yechezkel he looked familiar and asked if he was from West Hempstead!! The girl was Maasisralian (don’t know if I spelled the name correctly) and she is studying in Shaalvim this year. Small world.
After leaving Har Herzl, we were very hot and emotionally drained. Eitan came in to Jerusalem and we went to Cup o Joe for a late light lunch and then headed back to Maale Adumim. We arrived home and turned on the TV to watch whatever ceremony was on at the time. There were documentaries of the wars, stories of the fallen soldiers. And on one channel, the main Israeli channel, there was a continuous listing of all the soldiers who died since 1948 with the dates they died, set to tender, soft, sad music. It started Sunday evening and ended at 730 Monday night marking the end of Yom Hazikaron. It ended with ‘Yhi zichrum baruch’. ‘May their memories be for a blessing’. Imagine that. Over 24 hours of names. Powerfully stated.
Yom Haatzmaut, believe it or not, was fairly uneventful for me. The boys went to a celebratory Maariv at our shul on Monday night, came home and then we all went up onto the roof to watch the fireworks and watched the official start of Yom Haatzmaut on television. It was a happy event, 62 years of Israel’s statehood. On Tuesday the boys went to shul and said Hallel with a bracha. That’s what they do here. So I davened shacharit at home and said Hallel..with a bracha. Right or wrong, that’s what was said in our shul so it must be right. This was a miraculous event in history, one in which we should celebrate and thank God. So we did. We watched a ceremony at the President’s house for Chayalim Mitztaynim, soldiers who have excelled, or exceeded expectations and then we watched the Chidon Tanach, the international bible contest. It was so interesting. A lot of fun to watch, but very intimidating. These kids are brilliant. Netanyahu’s son (who attends a secular school) came in third place behind a high school senior boy from Israel and behind a high school senior Israeli girl (YEA!!) She came in first place. Kol Hakavod!!! We then hung around, relaxed, I went for a walk, the boys watched a movie and Eitan did some school work. There is something so special about Yom Ha’atzmaut here. There are Israeli flags everywhere: from the streetlights, to flag poles, to people’s homes, to buses. Everywhere, everyone (almost) enjoying the day. Oh, we had our share of Neturei karta and some Satmar and others from Mea Shearim, Bet shemesh and Bnei Brak who demonstrated against the State and some of whom burned the flag. On this day, after Yom Hazikaron, well I don’t need to tell you I had a few choice words for these people. Suffice to say, if they are so against the people and state of Israel, they should leave. I will leave it at that. I also sat on the roof reading and celebrating Israel’s birthday with a glass of wine and some cheese. There’s no better way to celebrate than with a glass of wine!! Most people barbeque, but since Meyer was not here and we don’t have our grill set up, we opted for a homemade dinner and relaxation.
The rest of the week was routine. Ulpan, school, job search, Yechezkel back to base. Tomorrow I am going on a tiyul to Gush Etzion with our community aliyah group. Hopefully it will be enjoyable.
There has also been plenty of disheartening events ’around town’ as well this week which blemish ones feelings about living here. The Holyland real estate debacle, Ehud Olmert, a new fraudulent real estate deal coming to light, the Mea Shearim flag burning, the Iranian threat, rocket attacks, missile attacks, Obama and Clinton’s irrational, hateful demands and behavior torwards Israel and the ensuing lack of outrage to these and other insidious threats towards Jews and Israel, the ‘divest from Israel’ culture being seen from various countries, etc, etc. There is no panacea. There is much to worry about, much to be concerned about. A Washington think tank predicts that war will come sooner rather than later. Who knows? But, here on Yom Hazikaron, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, I am reminded of the uniqueness of this land, its people. I am reminded daily of the importance of strengthening ourselves, the Jewish people, and of the importance of standing up to those who want to destroy us, or to those who wish to deny us our inalienable right to our homeland, to our existence. I am reminded of my younger years, when I learned almost daily in a HANC classroom and at home about Israel, about the geography, the wars, the people, the sites. I am reminded of the tremendous appreciation I have for being here, in my Jewish Homeland. I am reminded of who I am. Are you?
I close with wishes, yet again, for the long overdue release of Gilaad Schalit. And I too wish for all the families of fallen soldiers and victims of terror that their loved ones memories will remembered forever.
And of course, to my family, my blessings, all of you, immediate, and extended. I love you and miss you.