I was sitting alone at my computer when the siren sounded, signaling the start of Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day for Soldiers and Those Killed in Acts of Terror. The siren blasts for one minute at 8 PM on the eve Yom HaZikaron and for two minutes at 11 AM on the day of the observance. Our first year here I thought, if I’m alone in a room at home, it doesn’t matter whether I stand or not. That night, I realized, it does matter. The siren pulled me to my feet within seconds.
Like just about everyone else in the country, I stop what I am doing, and stand in reflection, listening to the siren. The siren is loud–ear splittingly, wake the dead, painfully screamingly loud. It seems to go on for forever. Two minutes, even one minute, is a long time to stand, thinking of those who have given their lives. Today the total is 23,320.
Sixty seven soldiers died in the last year, killed in action in Tzuk Eitan. An additional 35 veterans died from the effects of wounds received in earlier service. Most of the dead were Sabras, born and raised in Israel. Three were lone soldiers, who came from the US as volunteers in the Israeli army. Some were young, out of high school less than a year, doing their compulsory military service. Some were veteran soldiers, called away from wives, children, and jobs, as members of the reserves.
But we add to that number Gilad, Ayal, and Naphtali, teenagers killed by the terrorists who kidnapped them when they were hitchhiking home from school. We also include 3 month old Chaya Zissel Braun, killed by a man who deliberately drove his car through a group of people at a light rail station, and 4 year old Daniel Turgeman, killed by a Hamas mortar while playing outside his home. We add 4 year old Adele Biton, who was critically injured when terrorists threw rocks at her mother’s car, and who was almost completely unresponsive for the last two years of her too short life. And the dead include four men, brutally slaughtered by Arab workers while praying in a synagogue not far from where I live. I use the word slaughter deliberately, for what else can you call it when men peacefully praying are shot or have their heads split open with a meat cleaver?
Two of this year’s victims of terror were Arabs. Zidan Sayif was a
Druze policeman, who was killed while trying to stop the slaughter in the Har Nof synagogue. Mohammed Abu Khudair was kidnapped and burned alive by three young Israelis. He, and was originally included in the list as one of this year’s victims of terror. However, his family objected to his name being added to the monument to Victims of Terror in the cemetery on Har Herzl, and his name is being removed at their request.
On the morning of Yom HaZikaron, I attended the memorial ceremony at my grandsons’ school. As a fourth grader, Yakov was one of the participants.
The assembly for the boys in first through fourth grade. I watched them sit down, and fidget. They stood briefly while the school flag was lowered to half staff. Sitting back down, they fidgeted through the principal’s speech. He spoke about the commandment to remember–that we have both a duty and the privilege to remember. He also said that every soldier, in every war Israel has fought, has known that the war was justified. That he was doing the right thing. The principal has an excellent sense of timing. He finished at exactly 10:59:59. As the siren started to sound, the boys were on their feet even before he told them to rise.
I stared at them—200 boys, aged 6 to 10, standing still for two minutes. A few rocked at the waist, as they do when praying. But for the most part, I could been have watching statues for those two minutes. I wondered how many of them were thinking about an older brother or a neighbor who died last summer, or perhaps a cousin, father, or even grandfather, lost in an earlier war.
Ten years from now, most of them will probably be wearing khaki uniforms on Yom HaZikaron. I prayed that we would not be mourning any of them at that time. And I prayed that they will not be mourning friends or family members.
The students lit memorial flames, one flame for each war: the War of Independence, the Sinai Campaign, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, Peace in the Galil I, Peace in the Galil II, Tzuk Eitan (Protective Edge), and Victims of Terror.
When the school’s Rabbi came up to speak, he first stood in front of the flames and read the names on each one. He then said, “So many wars. So many wars.”
He walked around the table holding the memorial flames. When he got to the microphone, he continued, “But we are still here.”
He didn’t speak very long–these were young boys he was talking to. His vocabulary and imagery were fitting to the audience, which was good for me as well. The simpler vocabulary enabled me to understand his message. He spoke about how in the siege of Jerusalem in 1948, children had to stay in the house all the time because it was too dangerous to go outside. The children were hungry and thirsty, and had to stand in line to get water. They could not even dream about snacks like Bamba and Bisli. The soldiers fight for us so we can be safe. So that we can walk outside, and play, and go to school, and even eat Bamba and Bisli and candy.
The fourth grade boys read some poems and Psalms, and the choir sang a few songs. The program ended with all of us singing “Ani ma’amin”–I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and with the singing of Hatikvah.
May the number of those we mourn today as victims of terror or war not increase. 23,320 is already too many.
May we know no more war.