Late last week, Elie commanded an armored personnel carrier as it moved his soldiers into the Golan Heights for a renewal of training. I was a little concerned about the drive – these vehicles have been known to turn over and as the commander, Elie would be standing and helping to guide the driver. I asked him to call me when he arrived, knowing that this time, he probably wouldn’t. When he takes our car, he’s very good about calling to say he arrived. It’s a time-honored tradition handed down by each of the mothers in my family – the concept that you will only arrive safely if you know you have to call your mother at the end. Sure enough, by Thursday evening, Elie hadn’t called. I knew he was fine (another of those accidental calls in which I could hear him talking in the distance told me he was alive and well), but I wanted to hear his voice, so I gave in and called.
“That’s it, Elie, you didn’t call when you got there. This is the last time I’m letting you take my Nagmash“ [Hebrew abbreviation for the APC]. I was rewarded with his laugh and a comment about my car.
Elie has been looking forward to the training period. It’s an easier, more relaxed schedule. The weight of the protection of the State is not on his shoulders. Other than securing their individual base, they do little but test and train themselves. That’s on the higher level. On the simpler, more human level, it means that on Shabbat, when the army does not train, Elie and his soldiers can come home most weekends.
This week, Elie comes home tomorrow (Tuesday) and will be home until next Sunday. Starting Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m., a siren will sound throughout the land and again the country will go into mourning. Last week, it was for the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, and, in a more general sense, for all Jews who have died simply because they were Jews during the long exile that started in the year 70 CE and continued until 1948, with the re-establishment of the Jewish State of Israel in our ancient homeland. During the two minute siren in the morning, Elie stood, as did much of Israel, remembering and honoring those who died during the Holocaust.
This week, a uniquely Israeli event will happen. We will remember and then celebrate; we will mourn and then go from the deepest depths of despair to the greatest celebration our country has ever seen. On Wednesday (beginning Tuesday night), we will commemorate our Memorial Day to remember the tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers (and many thousands of others who have died as a result of terror attacks), and on Thursday (beginning Wednesday night), we will put aside our mourning to celebrate that for which they fought. Our independence, our freedom, our country. Israel has reached the age of sixty – sixty years since our founding, sixty years in which Jews all over the world have felt a sense of home, a sense of relief and security. Sixty years in which we have sent our sons to the army, and dreamed of peace.
Many countries mark a memorial day in which they honor their soldiers. In some places, it is a day of mourning; in too many places, it is a day of work or holiday sales. In Israel, we are so close to our soldiers, so close to families whose lives were forever changed by the worst news a family could imagine. In Israel, on Memorial Day, our places of entertainment are closed, our theaters and amusement parks shut for the day.
Our television and radio programs speak of those we have lost in somber and sad tones; even the music makes us cry. One station each year, scrolls the names of soldiers and victims of terror for 24 hours. All stations interview bereaved families to tell the stories of their sons and fathers and husbands. Each year, more names are added and the rate the names scroll just a little more quickly so that all will have their brief time of acknowledgement.
On Tuesday night, when the siren sounds, there will be ceremonies all over the country and on Wednesday, there will be more ceremonies and families will quietly go to the graves of their loved ones. On each grave, a flag has been placed – a reminder of why they were taken from their families, what they stood for, why they fell.
Last year, I read the story of what the paratroopers division does to remember their own. The article in the newspaper spoke of how beside the grave of each fallen paratrooper, a soldier in the current paratroopers division stands. The families come and see that their sons have not been forgotten. I couldn’t imagine what goes through the head of that young man, whose job it is to simply stand there, in honor and in mourning. I can’t imagine what the family thinks, seeing this young man stand so proud and straight, beside the grave of their son.
Last year, when I read that article, I didn’t know that the artillery division does the same. I didn’t know that my son would be asked to go and stand beside the grave of a fallen artillery soldier. I don’t know what will go through Elie’s mind as he stands beside that grave. How old will that boy be, that young man who died protecting our country.
I want to protect my son from such grief; such serious thoughts as death and families who come to mourn. Silly things come to mind – Elie, bring water against the heat and don’t stand in the hot Middle Eastern sun for too long.
And as I concentrate on my son, I realize that someone will come and see my son standing beside their son, who cannot stand. I don’t know how old their son was on the day he died; I can’t imagine what they feel each year going to visit him there in that place where he will never grow older. I hope they will know that Elie is there to honor him, there to remind them that we remember. They will see the uniform their son wore; the color of the beret.
My heart hurts, just a little, for Elie too. It is just another thing I wish I could do for him, wish I could help him do, and yet another thing he must do alone.