It’s a custom in Israel, to remember the Holocaust on one specific day, though many in Israel remember it every day, as it continues to haunt, to hurt, to hunt them through the day and deprive them of sleep at night. It’s ridiculous to assume that someone who has lived, even survived, the depths of hell, could come out unchanged.
There was an article recently that Holocaust survivors living in the southern cities of Sderot and Ashkelon are experiencing more flashbacks and nightmares. Little wonder, when they hear the loud explosions of incoming kassem rockets and mortars fired from Gaza at Israel’s cities. They go on, but they never get over, what happened so long ago.
This year, Holocaust Remembrance Day comes on May 1. Elie will be up north, still on patrol near the Lebanese border. Throughout the country, in schools, on the radio, on the television, the day focuses on what was done. A speaker on the radio this morning spoke of how, as the survivors who witnessed the Holocaust first hand are slowly leaving us, we are tasked with becoming the witnesses of the witnesses. We must remember all they told us, all they remember, all they suffered.
At 10:00 a.m., an air raid siren will sound in Israel. No matter where people are, they will stop and stand. In the middle of the streets, the cars will stop and people will get out and stand for two minutes beside their car and listen to the siren cry. In the stores, on the buses, on the army bases. And remember. And mourn.
Who He Stands For
My eldest son is a handsome young man with riveting blue eyes. He was named after his great uncle, who died very shortly after his wedding in 1944. His great uncle was named Binyamin Elimelech and he, like so many others, was murdered by the Nazis for the simple reason that he was a Jew. He was called Yoummy by his family, a shortened version of his name Binyamin. We know little about him other than his name and the fact that he was taken shortly after Passover from his parents’ home in Hungary. His mother and father and younger sister did not survive the war. Most of his uncles and aunts died as well. In the end, two of his younger sisters and one brother did survive.
Together, reunited after the war, these three young people made their way to the United States. My mother-in-law, the younger of the two sisters, married and had four children, each her own answer to what was done to her and her family in that darkest of times. Though his name is Binyamin Elimelech, my son is called Elie. He was born on a beautiful, sunny day in May. We asked my father-in-law what name he would have us give this first grandson of his. My father-in-law’s father was murdered by the Nazis. His father was named Shaye, and this name was given to his first son, and six other young men of that generation, all grandchildren of the Shaye who died in Auschwitz. Two of his brothers were murdered by the Nazis. Later, he would ask us to give one of those names to our second son, but for this first son, he asked us to speak to his wife, to ask her what name she would give.
She, like my father-in-law, was a Holocaust survivor. She was quiet for a few minutes, and then she asked us to name him Binyamin, after her brother. She told us about how he had just married before being taken away. Her brother’s middle name was Elimelech, and thus my son was named.
It’s been more than 20 years since she asked us to give him that name. Twenty years in which that baby grew tall and proud. We moved to Israel just after his sixth birthday. As he grew, he knew the day would come, as did we all, when he would be asked to do something that his namesake never had a chance to do. He would be asked to serve the Jewish State, to protect its borders. A little over a year ago, he stood proudly as he completed his basic training and just a few months ago, we watched as he was promoted after completing the Commanders Course.
In a short while, all over Israel, we will remember and mourn again, for the more than six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Personally, like so many others, we will remember our own. We will remember Raizel, and Shaye and Binyamin Elimelech. We will mourn for young Gabriella, and Chaya and Shmuel and Yehoshua. So many others – each with a name, each a story, each a past and a future stolen from them.
Like most in Israel, I will stand and listen to the air raid siren and think of those who died, and those who survived and suffered long after. And this year, I will remember that far up north, on the Lebanese border, my son will stand. I don’t know what I will be wearing, but I know Elie will be wearing the green uniform of the Israeli army. I don’t know if, at the moment the siren wails, I’ll have something in my hand. Once I was reaching for a tomato in a store; once I had my sleeping baby on my shoulder. But I know that Elie will be carrying a gun and looking to the north and to the east, watching our enemies.
Wherever I will be, whatever I will be wearing, whatever I will be carrying, I will stand and promise myself that the choice I made long ago, the one that led to Elie serving in the Israeli army was the right one because, in the end, what it means is that soon, when the sirens wail, Elie will be standing too. He’ll stand for the few remaining Jews of Yemen and Syria who still live in fear, like some in France and England and even in Germany, who still experience anti-Semitism. He’ll stand so that the world remembers what it once did to the Jew and what, by the strength of the Israeli army, it would never try to do today.
Ultimately, though, for those few moments, Elie will stand on the borders of our country, and remember those who could not stand up for themselves long ago.