One of the reasons I started this mailing list was to try to share that which we in Israel are experiencing. All day long today, Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and (for the first time) victims of terror, I tried to think how I could explain to someone outside the country what we here go through.
How can I make someone who doesn’t live here understand what it means to sit by your television set hour after hour watching family after family break down in tears as they describe the pain of losing a beloved son or daughter? And the pictures of the fallen, how they flash by, the handsome young men, the winning grin, the dark blue eyes, the strong young bodies, the beautiful young women — and all so young, so young, so very young.
There was one show that filmed mothers and fathers describing the last conversation they had with their child, and then how they learned the terrible news. Some feared it all along; others never suspected. Some were furious at the soldiers who came to tell them; others didn’t want to open the door at all; and still others didn’t believe a word, trying again and again to call the cell-phone number.
There was the Russian immigrant who had lost her lovely young daughter in a Tel Aviv disco bombing: “I dreamt about her wedding, having grandchildren. Now that will never happen.” Was she sorry she’d moved to Israel? “No,” she said. “This is our country. This is what my daughter wanted. It was her dream.”
And the Ethiopian mother who had lost her soldier son….and the friends we have known for years talking about losing their son, a war hero. I remember when David Granit was born. His mother didn’t know she was pregnant with twins, identical twin boys, redheads like their mother. Their father Menachem saw one son born, then went home. When he came back to visit his wife, she said: “We have a son.” I know, he answered, confused. “No, another son.” How we all laughed at this story.
David was killed in Lebanon saving the lives of his soldiers who were under heavy fire. “I didn’t want a hero,” his sister wept. “I wanted my brother.”
On the radio, I heard a bereaved mother talking about the importance of memorial day. “For one day the whole country feels like I feel every day.” It was important for people to call, to enquire, to comfort. To make those suffering from loss feel surrounded by a cocoon of warmth and love and solidarity, she said.
That is so hard, I thought. Because the last thing in the world you want to do is intrude on someone’s private grief. But Memorial Day makes that grief public, giving all of us a chance to say: We live because your son, your daughter, your father, your brother, your sister gave their lives to guard and protect us. Our country continues to function because your grandmother, your little girl, took a bus, bought a pizza, sat in a park, and in so doing, lost their lives to those who wish to take our country away from us. Too cowardly to fight our soldiers, they fight our old people, our babies.
When Memorial Day is over, we will dry our tears. We will go out into the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, our hearts still heavy with cumulative grief, and watch the fireworks. And little by little, we will start to smile again, to celebrate that our little country — our little miracle – is 56 years old. And that, despite everything, we love her and wish her well and would give anything — anything — to protect and nurture her and her people, the bravest and most compassionate people in the world.
Happy Birthday Israel. God Bless the Jewish people, the People of Israel. May He heal our wounds, and dry the tears from all faces.