Sunday, April 14, 2013

Yom Hazikaron - The Living Bones

What's the price of freedom? What does freedom mean?

In Israel, there's a unique answer to that question.

Tonight at sundown is Yom Hazikaron, the day Israel mourns the soldiers who have fallen defending this small country from its genocidal enemies.It's a day of utmost seriousness there, and one that always comes the day before Yom Ha'atzmaot, the celebration of the modern miracle of Israel's rebirth as a nation.These days occurring in the order they do is no accident.

As Yom Hazikaron starts, sirens wail all over the country and Israelis no matter where they are or what they're doing 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....23,085 fallen soldiers and 2,493 victims of Arab terrorist attacks, a terrible price for such a small country.

Because Israel is a state where most people serve in the military, the Tzahal is literally a people's army.Often, these are people who have grown up together in the same neighborhood, join up together, serve in the same unit and then continue to serve together yearly in reserve duty.They become an extended family, and this is their day to mourn and remember as well. On Yom Hazikaron it's not only the family that mourns the fallen soldier. It's his comrades.

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.

This year,the sirens will wail at exactly 8PM Israeli time. There will be a memorial at the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem and President Shimon Peres, accompanied by a widow of one of Israel’s fallen will light a memorial candle. Memorial services will be held on Sunday evening and Monday throughout the country as millions of Israelis visit the graves of their loved one.

President Peres will make a brief speech, and the the Kaddish, the Jewish Mourner's Prayer will be recited and and the traditional prayer for the dead, K’el Maleh Rachamim will be chanted. Similar prayers will be recited at cemeteries all over Israel.

Even the Prime Minister will not be exempt. Benyamin Netanyahu has his duties as head of state on Yom Hazikaron,but he went yesterday to Mount Herzel cemetery to visit the grave of his brother Yoni, who died in 1976 while leading an attack to free Jews held captive at the Entebbe, Uganda airport.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and others will speak at the traditional State ceremony held on Mount Herzl.

As sad as this day is for Israel, there is something that needs to be said.

Their numbers are fewer, but in Israel today you can still find people with living memory of what happened to them and their loved ones.The tattoos the Nazis engraved on their arms may have faded a little as the years have passed. The memories never will.

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.

Things are different now.

In the 65 years since Israel's birth, the price has been agonizingly heavy but 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.

The bones lived, and Israel lives and thrives against all odds.

The Jews are home, and they will continue to pay the price of freedom because they understand the alternative. Their roots in the Land of Israel go deep, back through the centuries and they will not be uprooted as easily as some people 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.


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