The Ostrich and the Ceremony
Every year, my city (and most cities in Israel) hold a memorial ceremony on the eve of Memorial Day. The ceremony begins, all of them, with the siren that sounds at 8:00 p.m. I’ve been to many of these ceremonies, though I haven’t gone in the last few years.
Each town across Israel joins in the collective mourning of more than 50,000 soldiers and close to 2,000 terror victims and each remembers their own. Unlike Memorial Day in many countries, here in Israel, the day is not considered a vacation. There are no sales, no special shopping discounts. Places of entertainment such as movie theaters and amusement parks are closed. National radio and television, even those for children, focus on the sadness. One station runs the names of all those we have lost, from the first who fell in the War of Independence, through the most recent killed in war or military actions.
This year, like all years, there will be more names and the station will have calculated the speed with which each name must be flashed across the screen in order to have all names shown by the end of the 24 hour period. I want to be an ostrich, and stick my head deep into the ground. I don’t want to think about what the day means to the families, to the mothers who once baked brownies for their sons, drove to their bases, did their laundry.
I don’t want to project, to imagine, to think. For the last two years, I have told myself that I didn’t have to be cruel to myself; that I was entitled to skip these ceremonies; that the mothers would understand. Maybe they too skipped the ceremonies before their sons were killed fighting for this land.
This is the first time I almost feel strong enough to risk going, dare to listen as the stories are told. I’ll light the memorial candle, as I do each year. I’ll stand and listen to the siren, as I do each year. I’ll think, or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll just stand there and listen to the siren and pray.
I can’t decide about the ceremony, about going, about listening. I could get through the day if I don’t hear the stories of the families, of how they still mourn and will forever. I don’t want to hear about their sons, of their bravery, of their sacrifice.
I’m being selfish; it’s wrong not to give them the honor they deserve. For two years, I have denied them this honor, hiding within myself. I tell them that after Elie finishes, or maybe after Shmulik finishes, I’ll come back and listen. I know it isn’t right and yet, the ostrich in me, the one I learned about years ago is still so strong.
For now, I’ll put off the decision. Tomorrow I’ll decide whether the ostrich will win this battle and whether I’ll ask Israel’s brave heroes to forgive me, just one more year. Elie will be home this coming weekend. I spoke to him briefly today. He was busy but when I offered to call him back, he said he’d be busier later.
I’ll find out soon where he was, what he was doing for the ceremonies of our Memorial Day and our Independence Day. His younger sister is already saying she doesn’t want to go to school, doesn’t want to hear about the soldiers. She said it will make her cry. She cried when the teacher taught her about Anne Frank, “it was so sad,” she explained.
Nine years old is a very difficult age. Everything in the world is seen as it relates to her. She has a friend whose brother was killed in action before the little girl was born. Can I blame her for wanting to be an ostrich, when I sometimes want to be one as well?
So – I’ll decide tomorrow. That’s what I’ll do. Tomorrow, when the sun is shining I’ll decide.
I know what you mean. Earlier today I was thinking that this year’s sirens will sound different to me now that my daughter is a soldier. I also don’t know if I’ll have the strength to listen to the stories this year.
Be gentle with yourself. It’s a hard thing we’re doing.
I don’t think that it means hiding or anything like that. The opposite. You are able to project just how terrible it is…..and because of that, you want to forget. But as a friend of mine who lost a son in a terror attack said:
“It never really is gone. Its a scratch beneath the surface.” And their loss is pretty near your surface, or you wouldn’t be scared.