Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Memorial and Independence Days in Israel

Last April 19th, Israel commemorated the Memorial Day to honor the families of the soldiers who fell in battle in Israel since her Independence, in 1948. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, Israel has lost a little more than 22 thousand soldiers. Sometimes, I cannot understand why a country that got the Independence still has to fight for her survival, as Israel does.

Still today, the soldiers have been trying to give to the Jewish people a place where to live, a place where to be as a Jew without any problem. Since 1948, there are soldiers who participated in more than one battle: Independence War in 1947-1949, The Sinai Campaign (Operation Kadesh) in 1956, The Six-day War in 1967, The War of Attrition in 1968-1970, Yom Kippur War in 1973, The Lebanon War 1 in 1982, The Second Lebanon War in 2006. To all of these wars, we need to add the “Gulf War” in 1991, when Iraq attacked Kuwait while Israel was receiving a lot of missiles (scuds), Israel not answering any of them. In addition to all these conflicts, we cannot forget all the terror attacks which Israel experienced with great loss of life for both soldiers and civilians.

Some people, here in Israel and elsewhere, are asking: how long must Israel still fight for her existence? Nevertheless, I think there is only one answer: "Being a Jew". For as long as there are persons in this world who cannot understand what it means to “live in peace”, for as long as there are persons intent to “organize and live” the life of the Jewish people, for as long as there are persons who do not accept the right of Israel and the Jewish people to exist, we will not have peace in the land of Israel.

When I was kid, at school I learned that Israel is called the “Land flowing with milk and honey” . . . . Sometimes, however, I think we need to add something sour…

Coming back to the day I am describing, something reminds us that this day is Memorial Day: Here in Yehuda’s desert, where we live, the peacefulness of the place was interrupted around 8 PM on the eve of that Day and at 11 AM the following day: A siren.

The sound was like the land was waking up and screaming for her soldiers, crying because another soldier was buried. She, the land of Israel, does not want to cry any more. She does not want to be again witness of the tears and pain because another life was taken from – and returned inside -- the earth.

As of seven years ago, another event has been added to all the commemorations of Memorial Day: the “Remembering, Singing and Telling with Hope and Together” event.

Dov Kalmanovitz, a terror attack survivor, has been organizing, since 2003, this event. In 1987, "the first intifada started when a Molotov cocktail was thrown into Dov’s car". And, while he struggled between life and death, “he vowed that, if he survived, he would do something for the common good” -- and this event emerged from the keeping of that vow.
Here is a picture of this year event.

Every year, the theme of this Event is different. This year, it was celebrated at the Binyenei Ha’uma [Convention Center], in Jerusalem. And the theme was “ bereaved families who have lost more than one member”. On this occasion, we remembered the soldier pilot Asaf Ramon(who died in September 2009). He was Ilan Ramon's son, the first Israeli astronaut who died when "Columbia broke apart during re-entry into the atmosphere over Texas on its way to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in February of 2003".

In the same event we also remembered the family Peretz who lost two sons: Uriel (Lebanon, November 1998) and Eliraz (Gaza, March 2010).

Seeing the pictures of Miriam (the mother of Uriel and Eliraz), and Shlomit Peretz (Eliraz’s wife) during the funeral of Eliraz, one realizes there are no words that can really bring any comfort. Nevertheless, Miriam said: “My sons told me to lift my head up high, to fight and not to give up. I hear their voices saying, continue, continue”. We just need to continue and live fully for as long as we will be here in the world.

I think that there is no home in Israel that did not lose a family member: father, brother, sister, son, daughter, wife, or extended member family because of a terror attack, or because of war. Some, like Peretz and Ramon families, have lost more than one loved one.

I remember when I was here in Israel, as a student, back on 1972-1974, when the Yom Kippur War broke out... For weeks, I heard the stories from the soldiers themselves who came back from the war field, telling what happened to their friends from the same platoon, telling their memories and their feelings; I also recall the stories about the soldiers who did not come back home... One of the mothers told me: “We know that here in Israel we just give bith to our children, rise them up until the age of 18; and after is not up to us”. It was sad, but this is the reality. Until when? Who knows…

In the United States and other countries we also commemorate Memorial Day. Here in Israel, however, the feeling is different. The feelings I had that Memorial Day here were beyond words. Being very very close to the soldiers, during the Yom Kippur war and today, it shakes my veins, my memory shivers.

I close my eyes and remember those days, and now the memories are coming back: the fear, the tears... The horror of those days keeps echoing in my heart – but, as Miriam Peretz said, we just need to continue...


Once, a long time ago, I read some where: “If you cry because you do not see the sun, the tears will not give you the opportunity to see the stars”.

Yesterday, we cried because the father, the son, the brother or the husband died in the war by giving his life so that his children, father, brother, wife can have a home. They gave their lives so that we can celebrate today that we have a country --we have a land for our children, the future of the country.

This year, Israel celebrated her 62nd anniversary. From north to south, from east to west, the entire country was decorated with Israeli flags: blue and white.

Most of the people were, likewise, dressed in blue and white. People were dancing in the streets, and having picnics and BBQ’s in their yards or in parks. Music, laughter, and happiness were present in each person, in each home, and in each place where people were gathering.

It was the Day for Israel, the Day which proclaims that, no matter what the rest of the world says, will say, or would like to say, ISRAEL ALWAYS WILL EXIST.


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