Today is my last day in Israel (for this trip, at least). Today is also Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel's Independence Day and 58th birthday. Yesterday was Yom HaZikaron, Remembrance Day for all of the fallen soldiers who have given their lives to protect our tiny little country. This is the first time I've ever been here for Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut, and I'm grateful that I was able to stay long enough to celebrate (commemorate) here.
Yom HaZikaron is unlike any kind of day of remembrance in America. I guess Memorial Day is the American equivalent, but there really is no comparison. Like on Yom HaShoah, there is a siren that is sounded for two minutes, during which the entire country stops, stands, and remains silent. For Yom HaShoah, I was at Yad LaKashish, in the Shikum, and stood with the elderly, most of whom lost loved ones in the Shoah. For Yom HaZikaron, in the evening, I stood with Miryam and Eli in their new apartment in Tel Aviv. In the morning, however, I experienced the full force of the siren. At 11:00, Miryam and I were crossing the bridge over Dizengoff when the siren sounded. The bustle and business of Tel Aviv stopped immediately. No matter where you looked, you only saw the still, silent forms of individuals standing in place, heads down, until the siren ended. It was compelling, to say the least.
We don't forget. Since the mid-19th century, over 22,000 Jews have given their lives to protect this little parcel of land that many are still trying to take away from us. We mourn for all of them, and we honor them. There are not enough words or even the appropriate words to honor them. They've given their lives to enable the rest of us to live ours. If not for them, we would have no country of our own. We would have no Tzahal (IDF). We would not be able to go to the Kotel. If not for them, I would not be sitting here right now, typing this post.
On the road from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim, there are the rusty remains of cars that were used to try to get food and water to the Jews in Yerushalayim in the War of Independence, who were under siege in the city. Arab snipers sat in the hills and shot anyone who tried to approach. Many Jews, fully aware of the danger, continued to try to help the Jews of Yerushalayim and lost their lives in the attempt. The rusty remains are left there as a memorial to their bravery and loyalty. On Yom HaZikaron, those rusty cars are draped in Israeli flags and wreaths. Dozens of them. It is one of the most touching, inspiring sights I have seen here. The picture of those blue-and-white covered car skeletons is burned in my head.
No, we don't forget. I certainly will not. Though I don't know when I'll be able to come back home to Israel, I will not fail to remember and honor the ones who died to protect this country that I love so much. May Hashem protect and give rest to their neshamot, and may their memories be a blessing for us all.
And may Hashem protect the men and women of Tzahal who are still fighting to keep us safe. May no more of their blood be spilled, and may Israel celebrate it's next birthday in peace.