By Leah Garber
Like cyclamen among the rocks
The beautiful faces of this land hide.
And when the country suddenly will need
them to lie in the mud in a ditch,
you won’t believe how they appear,
Like cyclamen among the rocks.
—Ariel Horovitz, singer-songwriter; translation by Leah Garber
Today, Israelis and Jews around the world commemorate 28,468 of Israel’s finest sons and daughters who gave their lives so that tonight we can celebrate the country’s 75 years of independence
We bow our heads, as we do every year on Yom HaZikaron—Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen IDF soldiers and civilian victims of terrorism. Unfortunately, today is not the only day this year on which we have bowed our heads in mourning. Since last year, 59 soldiers and 31 civilians have been added to the count, and their family and friends are left with the eternal pain of loss now engraved forever in their hearts.
Terrorists continue to strike, mercilessly destroying lives, upending joy, and sowing grief and pain in their wake. This year, the acts have been particularly atrocious, and in recent months, three pairs of siblings have been murdered by terrorists.
Like most Israelis during the week of Pesach, the Dee family was out for the day, hoping to enjoy the beauty of the Judean Desert before it withered under the summer sun. Suddenly, at a turn in the road, the family’s car was ambushed by terrorists. The attackers followed the car, shooting at it as it rounded a sharp curve, causing it to veer off the road. Descending on the vehicle, they shot the passengers at point-blank range, killing 20-year-old Maya and 15-year-old Rina immediately. Their mother, Lucy, was mortally wounded and died three days later. One family, three murders, two funerals in three days—events that left a broken, bereaved family that will never be the same.
The next day another attack, this one in the heart of the country. While walking along Tel Aviv’s beautiful beachside boardwalk, an Italian tourist was killed by a terrorist.
Just a few weeks earlier, the Yaniv brothers—Hillel Menachem, 22, and Yagel Yaakov, 20— were murdered in an attack like the one on the Dee family. A terrorist opened fire on the brothers’ car from point-blank range, killing them on the spot. Their mother, Esti, wrote: “We have a hole, a huge hole in our hearts, and nothing, nothing will close that hole. No new settlement, no demonstration, nothing. Joyful family events will be a band-aid. This hole will remain, and we will learn to live with it.”
The shocking murder of the Yaniv brothers happened just a few days after the Palai family of Jerusalem completed the weeklong shiva (mourning) for 8-year-old Asher and his 6-year-old brother, Yaakov. The children were murdered when a terrorist rammed his car into a bus stop, where the family waited for a bus to take them to a Shabbat gathering. In addition to the two innocent children, a recently married young man also died.
A sequence of cruelty, hatred, and evil creates a never-ending cry that weaves link after link in the chain of Israeli bereavement. The tears continue to flow, and the heart refuses to believe.
Following today’s collective mourning, the gloomy atmosphere will lift as tears of sorrow turn to tears of joy. This change is typical in Israel’s impossible reality: In a country where sadness and joy are intertwined, people can cry and hurt, then sing and dance on the same day, as tears of sadness and joy, too, mix.
Indeed, the joy is great. There is so much to be happy about and so much for which to be grateful—especially this year, the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence. Symbolizing this joy are Israeli flags—more than ever before—on the streets and flying outside private homes and public buildings. Although waving the country’s flag traditionally has been more common among religious nationalists and right-leaning Israelis, citizens’ passionate desire to preserve national symbols and values has led to a tremendous increase in the number of Israeli flags at every rally, and today, they are carried by all sectors of the populace in honor of Yom HaAtzmaut. No one political party nor one facet of citizens owns the right to wave our blue and white flag. We feel a sense of urgency and pride as we embrace our beautiful country, guard its values, and protect its precious symbols.
Although it is true that Israel has experienced upheaval during the past few months in the form of unprecedented public protests, the diaries of our country’s history include continuous development, wars and victories, pain and bereavement, achievements and successes, absorption of immigrants from more than 100 countries, and tremendous contributions from around the world. We cannot let ourselves be defined by one series of events—however difficult they may be and however much we might wish they would end. Instead, we should look at the entire 75 years of this nation’s amazing existence.
Israel exists thanks to the dedication, skills, and faith of the good people who live here. It exists thanks to their steadfast adherence to its purpose and their commitment to fulfilling its vision. It exists, too, thanks to the aid, encouragement, and contributions it has received from you and so many others in the Jewish world.
These recent challenging and hurtful months have proved that the Israeli people care passionately about their home, its identity, and its future. The tireless determination of hundreds of thousands of Israelis who protest week after week—on both sides of the barricade—demonstrates, more than anything else, the commitment Israeli citizens have for our homeland.
The Jewish State is embraced by those who love it and returns the embrace warmly, with a promise for the future. Its people are Israel’s most significant resource. They built this country, and thanks to their efforts, it has earned its title and reputation as one of the wonders of the modern world.
A loaded week is passing us by. The sanctity of Memorial Day and Independence Day floats in the air—filling it with majesty, painting the Israeli spring sky in all possible shades of blue and white, seeking to raise a heavenly flag that will wrap us all, despite our differences, in a sense of shared destiny. We will bow our heads, saluting our heroes who sacrificed their lives for us, and we will hold our heads high, grateful for our beloved country—this year, more than ever, today more than any day.
These difficult times will pass. Not tomorrow and not the day after, but it will happen. And the next generation of builders will continue to fulfill the country’s mission—to be a Jewish and democratic state, a homeland for the Jewish people, and an enlightened, glorious country its citizens are privileged—and proud—to call home. Today, at the seam between bereavement and joy, between abysmal pain and tremendous satisfaction, and with a truly full heart, I want to recognize and thank all those Israelis and Jews from around the world who, together, generation after generation, are committed to the vision of Theodor Herzl, continue down the path worn by David Ben-Gurion, and fulfill the dream of the prophets.
Their efforts have resulted in the building of a glorious Jewish state whose foundations are loyalty and faith, sacrifice and hard work, brotherhood, and great love. Today I celebrate the true and enduring beauty of my country and its lovers near and far. May we be worthy of our beloved Israel and celebrate the 75th anniversary of its independence with unity and pride in the masterpiece we have built together.
Leah Garber is a vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.