Sunday, May 04, 2014

Yom Hazikaron - The Living Bones

What's the price of freedom?

Today, marks the beginning of Yom Hazikaron, the day Israel mourns the soldiers who have fallen defending this small country from its genocidal foes.

As with most Jewish observances, this holiday starts at sundown. Sirens wail, and Israelis no matter where they are or what they're doing stop to stand at attention. Even cars on the busy roads pull over as the drivers leave their vehicles to stand for a minute and remember the sacrifice of Israel's fallen heroes....23,169 fallen soldiers and 2,495 victims of Arab terrorist attacks, a terrible price for such a small country. Yes, on its official Memorial Day, Israel also mourns the loss of murdered civilians.

Because Israel is such a small country where most people serve in the military, the IDF is literally a people's army, and it has love and respect from the people it defends as in few other nations. On Yom Hazikaron it's not only the family that mourns the fallen soldier. It's his or her comrades.

Often, these are people who have grown up together in the same neighborhood, joined up together, served in the same unit and then continued to serve together yearly in reserve duty.They became an extended family, and it is their day to mourn and remember as well. All over Israel, people visit the graves of their loved one and lay flowers, and a red daisy called Blood of the Maccabees is worn in lapels and on hats.

Speaking at the opening Yom HaZikaron ceremony at the Kotel, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said something that reflects how many Israelis see this time.

“From our nation’s wall of memory that we stand before tonight, from these stones of hope that have accompanied our country in our fight for life and our dreams of peace, from this place where past, present and future meet – the young faces of your beloved sons and daughters look out at us, full of life, the faithful servants of the Jewish people. They are with us at every step, at every junction that life in this region throws at us. Their absence is felt in the ranks of the IDF, and in every area of Israeli society, the fight for which has not yet finished.”

That's the simple truth. It isn't finished.

Former Knesset Speaker Reuben Rivlin said something a few years ago at a Yom Hazikaron memorial at the Mount of Olives cemetery in Jerusalem that has always stuck with me as something that bears remembering:

"As we stand at this hour before the plots of our heroes, we say that this city will find its protectors."

"Those who fought for it back then, when it was besieged by foreigners, will not stand by this time either. We will not sit on our hands while others raise a hand against the city that has finally come together."

"We have not come here to live at the mercy of foreigners and their decrees. We were born for freedom and for the freedom of Israel have we fought, and this ancient mountain will once again be a symbol of life, construction, and renewal."

The last time genocide was visited on the Jewish people, there was no IDF, no army to defend them and there was no home or refuge for them.

The world turned its back on the Jews, with some honorable and heroic exceptions. They stood by and watched it happen.

In 66 years, although the price has been agonizingly heavy, the Jews have made Ezekiel's prophecy come true..the remnants of the Jewish people came home from fire and slaughter and G-d's question to Ezekiel 'Can these bones live?' has an answer in the miracle that is Israel today.

Yes, the Jews are home, and they will continue to pay the price for the very reason Reuven Rivlin mentioned. They understand only too well what living at the mercy of foreigners and their decrees means. They understand the price of freedom.Their roots in the Land of Israel go deep, back through the centuries and they will not be uprooted as easily as some people might imagine.

As the flame of the memorial candles of Yom Hazikaron die down, they give way to the bright sunshine of the dawn of Yom Ha'atzmaot, the festival of Israel's freedom.The Jews are home, in their own free country, and with G-d's help, they mean to keep it.

No comments: