By Leah Garber
As happens every year, writing about Israel’s national holidays—Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day, and Independence Day—is difficult for me.
My emotions intensify and swell—my great love and pride I have for my home alongside the grief for the toll it takes to call it home.
I am overjoyed and incredibly appreciative of all the wonders, achievements, and beauty that bless this country and people, and yet, I’m overwhelmed with sadness, sorrow, and pain at the price we continue to pay, the never-ending fee required, still, even after 74 glorious years of existence.
Yom HaZikaron, Israel Remembrance Day, is a national day of mourning, present in every possible dimension of Israel’s public sphere. The atmosphere is one of grief, private and personal, as well as public, in the form of official memorial ceremonies in cemeteries, schools, and workplaces across the country. The day-long remembrance in all realms of the country is intensified by the two sirens that pierce the air and shake the heart, the first in the evening of Yom HaZikaron, the second at mid-day.
As an Israeli, the sense of collective mourning, shared pain, and gratitude for those who paid the ultimate price so we can live is the most powerful emotion I experience during the entire year.
Israeli singer and songwriter Moti Hammer wrote in “Human Tapestry”:
“When I will die, something from me
Will die within you.
When you will die, something from you within me
Will die along with you
Because all of us, yes, all of us
All of us are just a living human tissue
And if one of us,
Something from us dies along
And something else, stays within him
If we only knew, how to calm
The hatred, if only we knew how
If we only knew how to silence our rage
To say we are sorry, though we already got offended
If we only knew how to begin fresh from the start”
Every year I hope the previous year’s last victim will forever seal the list of bereavement, but every year brings disappointment and new tears to blend with the old ones.
On Friday night, 23-year-old Vyacheslav Golev was killed by a vicious terrorist from a nearby Palestinian village at the check point near the entrance to the city of Ariel. The city and its large university, which welcomes Jewish and Arab student as one, was Vyacheslav’s second home during the years he studied there and from which he graduated recently.
Just a few weeks ago, Vyacheslav got engaged to Victoria Fliegelman, who was stationed at the guard post during the attack. His unbelievable bravery, shielding his love with his body, was his last gift to her—saving her life. Although Victoria was not physically wounded in the attack, her emotional scars, join so many others as a forever and painful reminder of her loss, our loss.
This long chain of bereavement extends back to before the state was even established, a price paid in blood by civilians and soldiers, citizens and tourists, all of whose deaths indelibly bind them into the heroic story of the resurrection and settlement of our homeland.
On November 30, 1947, the day following the historic United Nation vote on the partition of Mandatory Palestine, two deadly terror attacks were committed against Israelis.
In the first, Shoshana Mizrahi Farchi, 22, was on her way by bus from Netanyah to Jerusalem, to meet her soon-to-be husband. The wedding was planned for the following week, but Shoshana, z”l, was among five passengers on the bus killed that day. A second Egged bus was attacked later the same day, killing two passengers.
While the people of what would soon become the Jewish State were joyously dancing and celebrating the November 29 U.N. vote, these two attacks marked the opening shots in Israel’s War of Independence. Seventy-four years later, the war—and its killing—goes on.
Indeed, we are all part of a human tapestry, and if one of us fades away, something in each of the rest of us dies as well. This is a nation in which so much has faded away through the years; a piece of each of us dies with every victim. We are a wounded nation, and simply living here causes pieces of us to die. Our nation bleeds often, even as, like the mythological phoenix, we rise and flourish, again and again, from the ashes of bereavement and pain.
Five-year-old Ido Avigal was killed on May 12, 2021, by a rocket fragment that penetrated his home, fired during operation Guardian of the Walls. Ido was sitting with his family in their home-based shelter, but the long hand of terrorists, his murderers, went through the concrete beams and took his young life. His mom, Shani, wrote this:
“In the days that followed I wondered: How do you get up to a new reality? How do you learn to walk again? I looked into my daughter’s sore eyes, your sister, Tahal, and I understood. While I am a mother who lost her little son in a terrible and unbearable tragedy, I am also a mother who needs to help her child continue to live a normal life within an abnormal reality. Sometimes it means putting on a mask of joy and laughter, and sometimes it means answering existential questions about death and God—questions of an eight-year-old girl. You left us a parental will that redefined for us the right priorities in our lives. We were career people who raised children, and today we are first and foremost parents who also have careers. The choice of life, despite your absence, brought with it the pregnancy and the impending birth. My heart is full of love for you, wrapped in pain. The pain is packed in a suitcase, going with me everywhere I go. When the suitcase opens, the pain sends its arms everywhere, and screams. When it’s closed, I can breathe”
The entire Jewish world today bows its head in honor of the 24,068—the best of our sons and daughters—who have lost their lives in battle and hostilities. This evening, the sun will set and with it the sadness and crying; a time of joy will break. The state of Israel will cast off its grief, adorning itself in the joy of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.
We are a nation that knows how to close one eye crying in sadness and open the other one that releases tears of joy and gratitude. Both eyes tear in the impossible cluster of grief and joy of one body. Just like Ido’s family—a new life is on the way while eternal grief for the ones lost is always present
As the atmosphere of Independence Day embraces us, we shall wipe our tears of grief and proudly raise our heads in homage to our beloved homeland, celebrating the 74th year of the country’s miraculous independence.
Leah Garber is a vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.