Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. All over the country, there are ceremonies of remembrance, school lessons devoted to what happened more than 60 years ago when Hitler and the Nazis had a plan to wipe out the Jewish nation. Candles burn in many homes, a 24-hour tribute and a promise. This morning, all of Israel came to a halt as people stopped walking, stopped driving, stopped talking. We stood in silence for two minutes listening to the air raid siren. It is a haunting sound, a warning, a call to arms. Listen and learn, it whispers to the soul. Remember and guard.
A few years ago, while standing in Auschwitz, probably the most notorious of the Nazi death camps, Brig. Gen. Amir Eshel quietly apologized to the memory of six million Jews killed during the Holocaust, “We got here 60 years too late.” Part of the ceremony included a fly-over by three jets of the Israeli air force. As the jets flew over head, Eshel continued, “We pilots of the air force, flying in the skies above the camp of horrors, arose from the ashes of the millions of victims and shoulder their silent cries, salute their courage, and promise to be the shield of the Jewish people and its nation Israel.”
Two weeks ago, my oldest son entered the army of Israel. He joined the artillery division, as part of the shield of the Jewish people and its nation of Israel. This morning, as the sirens sounded, I stood in silence on a major street in Jerusalem, our beloved and beautiful capital, and thought of my son.
He’s in the desert in the south, shooting a newly-issued short M16. Last night, as people gathered all over Israel to remember and mourn again for those who were murdered by the Nazis, my son slept below the open skies of our land. Having a son in the army is not an easy thing, I am coming to learn. There seems to be a part of my brain constantly attuned to the fact that I don’t know exactly where he is or what he is doing. It is a slow-burning fear, a pit of worry deep inside. Accidents happen, even in training. And when he leaves basic training, my mind refuses to consider beyond the moment, beyond the next few days. I know that he will come home this weekend, tired and hungry and ready to be with his family. I ache for the time that he is away, even as I am proud of what he is doing, what he is becoming, and what he symbolizes.
Sixty five years ago, there were no Israeli soldiers to defend our people, no country to which they could escape. All over the world today, Jews are that much safer because last night my son slept in the Israeli desert with his unit, because tens of thousands of other soldiers guarded our borders, watched over our cities, patrolled our streets.
I thought of all this in the two minutes of the siren and as the slow wail of the siren died down, I thought of my son’s namesake, who was killed in Auschwitz. The only promise we can offer now is that if there ever comes a time when a Jewish community is in need, this time, we won’t be too late. That is the promise made each year from the people and the soldiers of Israel. This time, we won’t be too late.