Today, Israel and the Jewish world observes Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s national Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism, and ceremonies nationwide honor the 23,320 servicemen and victims of terror who had fallen since 1860.
This year that has elapsed since last Yom Hazikaron has been a very difficult one, beginning with the cruel kidnapping and murder of Naftali, Eyal and Gilad. These sons of Israel quickly became all of our sons. Their tragedy was followed by another vicious kidnapping and murder, that of 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir of Shuafat, an eastern Jerusalem Arab neighborhood. He was killed by Jews for being Arab. These two devastating events were followed by 50 days of fighting in Operation Protective Edge and the tragic loss of 67 soldiers and five civilians, including 4-year-old Daniel Tregerman.
Last week, on Yom Hashoah my daughter returned home from school with a candle in memory for Yakov Bromberg, a 70-year-old Romanian Jew who perished in the Holocaust. We never heard of Yakov before, but when lighting a candle in his memory, we read that his will was to be remembered, and we did. Six thousand candles in memory of six million Jews were lit by Israeli children, because we are obligated and privileged to remember and cherish all who perished in the Shoah. Today, on Yom Hazikaron an Israeli flag and a flower have been placed on the graves of every fallen soldier, because they, too, are in our memories, whether we personally know them or not. At 11 a.m. we stood in silence for two minutes, acknowledging their sacrifice, praying for no more conflict and embracing all bereaved families for the price they pay, daily, for our Jewish homeland.
To me, Yom Hazikaron captures the essence of being Israeli. Year after year, I join my husband to visit a bereaved family who I really don’t know, and over the years I’ve become acquainted with them through these visits. Their son Roni Levi, who served with my husband, fell in the first Lebanon War in 1982. Roni was 19-year-old when he was killed and since that moment, his entire family was changed forever. Roni’s mother lost her will to live, and dragged herself through life, day after day, for 32 years, until surrendering to cancer shortly after last Yom Hazikaron, when I saw her last.
In visiting this family I don’t really know that well, meeting other Israelis all there for the same purpose and also known to me only for this reason, through these visits, creates such a powerful feeling of unity, of being part of the whole, of a collective mourning. Nowhere is this unity more evident than on memorial walls, where the names of native-born Israelis, new immigrants, Jews, Bedouins, Druze, secular, Orthodox and non-Israeli soldiers, are all on the same wall, with no separation by religion, nationality, or belief, united as part of the IDF (Israel Defense Force) and their willingness to sacrifice their lives for the Jewish state.
And then, as the sun sets taking with it our tears and sorrow, the most unreasonable yet powerful transition happens: Israel sheds her grief, replacing it with the joy of Yom Ha’atzmaut, celebrating our independence, strength and our very existence.
Certainly, after such a painful year, our hope for peace seems a very distant one. And yet Jews across the world pray for peace three times a day, every day, never losing hope.
Together we built a powerful magnificent Jewish state, and together we stand united remembering our heroes — sons and daughters who died in the long battle protecting our homeland.
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May he who makes peace in high places, make peace for us and for all Israel, and let us say, amen.
Vice President, JCC Israel Center
Moshe Peretz, a well-known Israeli musician invited all bereaved siblings of Operation Protective Edge casualties to join him for his new song in memory of fallen soldiers- Ach Sheli My brother.