In my real life, the one that takes place during the day and far from my children, I’m a technical writer. One of the things we practice is something called, “single-sourcing.” It means, in a nutshell, writing something once and then reusing it. I’m going to do that here because sometimes the emotions overwhelm and drown you. Maybe it’s other pressures in life (and I have a bunch of them going on now), but I just can’t do this. So, I’m going to single-source and go back to what I wrote in the past to explain what will be happening this week in Israel.
It is a time that pulls the soul out of the body and demands that it bleed. The soul agonizes, cries, despairs and then, just as you reach the bottom, the tempo changes, the soul soars and you realize you can rise up, you can celebrate all that we have created. Tonight begins Yom HaZikaron – the Day of Remembrance. We mourn to a depth that is hard to explain. It is all encompassing, our grief. It defines the day, the society, every breath we take. Tomorrow night, at the moment Yom HaZikaron ends, our independence day begins.
It is a concept that makes so much sense, it is hard for me to believe other countries haven’t done this. You cannot celebrate your freedom, your independence – you have no right to celebrate it, unless you first thank those who gave the most to ensure you are free. So first we mourn, and then, amazingly enough, we shake it off, somehow, reluctantly, to celebrate all they gave us, all that we have, all that we have built.
That will be tomorrow night – tonight, we mourn. This year, Elie will be on active duty, defending, patrolling. He’ll stop and recognize the day, but he wil not stand, as he did last year.
From What Elie Stands For:
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.
The next day, I posted more (Who Elie Stood For):
Eyal Tsarfati was only 19 years old when he was killed defending Israel. His parents came to his grave today, one of 22,437 families who mourn for their loves ones who died since the State of Israel was founded.
So little, do I know about this young man. He died in 1990 and today, Elie stood by his grave as his family came to pay their respects. Each of Elie’s soldiers was assigned a cemetery and a name and had to call Elie when they arrived. Elie can tell me how many artillery soldiers died during their three years of military service, and how many died while doing reserve duty in the artillery division. By each, a soldier in the artillery division stood today.
Elie called his commanding officer when all of his soldiers had checked in. That commanding officer called his commanding officer and on it went. Today had to be perfect, from a logistics point of view, so that beside each soldier that has fallen, a soldier in today’s army would stand. No family would arrive to an empty grave. Each has a soldier, a flag, a token of this nation’s ongoing commitment to honor and remember their sacrifice. So little in return for such a great service given.
It was my hardest Memorial Day ever, my brain searching for appropriate thoughts as the siren wailed. I had already known Eyal’s name because I asked Elie yesterday, though I didn’t know he was only 19 when he died. In the two minutes that I stood and listened to the siren, I thought of Eyal and of a friend’s son who was killed during the Second Lebanon War two years ago. I thought of Elie, begging God that I never live to mourn a son or a daughter.
Today isn’t about Elie and the boys who serve in the army now. They stand as a quiet backdrop to the real heroes of the day, those who could not stand, could not comfort their families today. It was a hard day for Elie’s younger sister too. She cried last night when she heard the siren and began listening to the memorial ceremony. We talked and I knew that she too, at only 8 years old, is projecting her fears and worries onto the day.
At schools around the country, after the siren sounds at 11:00 a.m. for two minutes, there is a ceremony. I felt it would be too much for my daughter; too great the fears she already faces. Each time something happens to a soldier, she asks if Elie is ok and last night she asked if she could stay awake to see him when he got home. Too close for her, this year, I thought. I called a friend, who told me to follow my heart. I called the school counselor, who told me to do what I felt was right and that she would have years to face memorial days. Eventually, she would have to, the counselor told me and as she knows our family, she knows that I have two more sons who will some day become soldiers (God willing).
Yes, I answered the counselor and my heart. Many years ahead to face, to give respect, to honor. But eight is young and the fear is great. Children deserve a chance to escape things that parents have to face and so I let her skip school and come with me to the office. She stood by me as the siren sounded; quiet and listening. In the morning, when we dropped Elie off at the national military cemetery on the way to the office, my daughter asked if we could go into the cemetery. “Not today,” I told her. She wanted to prolong being with Elie, and she was curious. But today, the cemetery belongs to the families and I didn’t feel it was right. She is young and full of questions.
Denied peace during their lives, having fought our enemies and sacrificed their lives, I can only hope they have found peace now. May the memory of Eyal Tsarfati be eternally blessed and may his family and all the mourners of Israel find comfort in knowing that the deaths of their loved ones enables us to close the first 60 years of Israel’s re-established history…and begin the next.
My youngest daughter is only 9 years old. She’ll come with me again to the office, rather than go to school. I don’t know if this is the right thing to do, but re-reading what I wrote last year reminded me that she has, God willing, a long life of Memorial Days ahead of her. This year, I will stand with her in silence and think of Eyal Tsarfati, and so many others.