Living in Interesting Times

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

From the inside looking in

It is hard to come up with anything original to say about Yom HaZikaron, our memorial day to our fallen. It has all been said before. That not withstanding I am going to try to express some thoughts I have on this day - a day which demands reflection.

Today we recall 20,368 soldiers fallen since the War of Independence. 21,954 in total including the pre-state period. 169 of those are new since last year. Even this year, which has been far more quiet than last, we are still losing a soldier ever 48 hours on average. Israel has no unknown soldier - no unremembered soldier. We don't round up our figures to make the easier to remember. Each life is individual, each name is recalled.

Remembrance Day in England never felt like this to me. Perhaps it does feel the same to people of a certain age. But to younger people, born after the Second World War it is all very detached. A soldier is a soldier. In Israel a soldier is a friend, a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a parent. With our national conscription, not to mention our continuing state of war, a soldier is not someone else - he is everyone, everywhere. He becomes real and human - not merely a uniform.

Yom HaZikaron is the day in the year when I feel most Israeli. It wasn't always like this. When I first arrived. I felt like an intruder on someone else’s grief. I was sad - but what right did I have to my sadness. Did I know anyone who had died? Did any one in my family fall? Is there anyone from my class at school whose name will be read out at some tekkes somewhere? Yom HaZikaron used to be the day that separated me from other Israelis. But somewhere in the last three years things changed. I still (thank God) don't know any fallen, but somehow I no longer feel like an outsider on this day. The grief is my grief too. I also have lived through difficult times here - times of fear and loss. My future is entwined with this country - and that stands on the backs of the 21,954 who we remember today.

Last night I walked though Emek Refaim as stores and restaurants were closing. It felt like erev Yom Kippur. Everyone was getting ready for something. I attended a community tekkus in my neighbourhood. After the songs poems and readings were over, after we all stood silent as the siren wailed I did the most Israeli thing of all. I went to Shira B'Tzibbur. Hundreds of people, of all ages, crammed into a large community hall, all singing along together songs to remember the fallen. We had another tekkus this morning at work. I stood there today surrounded by all the people there. All people working in Jewish education, working for the Jewish people and I thought how lucky I am. To be living where I am, and doing what I do. To have achieved the goals I set for myself and to be a part of this country in both its mourning and its joy.

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