On the occasion of Yom Hazikaron 2017, I found this in my archives, and it brought me back 8 years. Remembering those who gave their lives for Israel, and getting ready to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut tomorrow. And looking forward to traveling with a CBJ group next year for Israel’s 70th!
Monday, April 27, 2009
I can’t possibly do justice in words to what I experienced tonight. Tonight is Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Memorial Day. It is a very different day from what we celebrate in the U.S., where Memorial Day to most is the unofficial first day of summer. Yom HaZikaron is the day when Israel remembers the 22,570 killed since 1860 when Jews first settled outside the walls of Jerusalem. Tel Aviv held a tekes, a ceremony, in Kikkar Rabin, a large plaza next to the spot where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995. By the time I arrived at the square, a huge crowd had already assembled.
At exactly 8:00 PM, for one minute, a siren sounded. Everybody immediately became silent, standing still, in an act mirrored throughout the country. Some bent their heads, many stood with vacant looks. Over the thousands gathered in the square, a sliver of moon hovered. The only sound piercing the silence was the sharp cry of an infant. When the siren ended, people slowly began moving and resumed conversations.
After a few minutes, more and more people arrived for the tekes. I made my way around the crowd to the far side from where I had been standing. Thousands of people were here. I noticed that the vast majority was young- twenties, maybe early thirties. At 9:00 the tekes began. The emcee spoke words of introduction and a singer took the stage. She had a beautiful voice, filling the plaza with the pathos of her song. Large screens projected her image with subtitles of the song’s lyrics. When she finished, nobody applauded.
The emcee returned to the stage and told of a soldier who had been killed in action. In the corner of the screen, a woman signed his words. The screen then filled with a picture of the soldier and his dates of birth and death. He was 21 when he met his end in 2006. His mother shared memories of him, then his sister did the same, both in taped interviews. After two minutes, another singer took the stage and sang an equally mournful song. Looking around at the thousands of spectators, one could see many moist eyes and not a few tears. For an hour and a half, this continued: songs, brief speeches, stories of those killed. For an hour and a half, all were rapt, focusing on the singers, the speeches, the stories. Some in the crowd were singing along, many were holding each other.
Israel’s independence is not as remote as ours. It is a struggle that plays itself out every day, sometimes more acutely than others, but always in the story. Sadly, death in the service of one’s country is not remote either. I could not tell you who knew the soldiers personally. But I can say that each of their stories touched the members of the gathering personally.
On my short walk back to the hotel, I realized that the people who were in Kikkar Rabin tonight were not spectators at all. They were participants. The stories we heard were their stories, and the songs that were sung were their songs. An Israeli friend once told me that there was a huge difference between Israelis and Diaspora Jews because Israelis served in the army, laying their lives on the line. Yesterday, I mentioned that making aliyah required a huge commitment, especially if it means committing one’s children to the defense of Israel. Tonight I understand even more clearly what a huge commitment that can be.