Tonight, Israel will mark Yom Hazikaron, its annual Memorial Day, known officially as the Day of Remembrance for Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism. Arnold Roth delivered the following (in Hebrew) as a speech at a public Yom Hazikaron commemoration in the Jerusalem community where he and his wife and children live.
In the years since then, I have met and spoken with politicians, journalists, diplomats and public figures from many countries. It has been a privilege to engage with them, to address their questions of how it is to live in a society where so many people have experienced personal loss from war.
It is much rarer to express those feelings to one’s own neighbors. What can be said to them that they do not know already?
Perhaps nothing, because we live our lives so close to each other and therefore we share many experiences. We see each other on the bus and at the kanyon (shopping mall). Walking along the street, going to the youth center or the synagogue, waiting at the same traffic lights for the red light to become green.
With all that we share, it is inescapable that our stories are individual, personal, unique and non-standard. Our experiences in life are like that too: different from one another’s. The music that some of us enjoy is not so enjoyable to others. The same with food, with politics, with the color and style of our clothes, with the books we like to read.
I know very little about what is going on inside the heads of the people who stand on line with me at the supermarket. I expect that what they know about me is very little, too.
Each year, I ask myself: What are they thinking when all of us stand in silence as the siren to mark the minute of silence is sounding?
I know what I am thinking about. I know we are probably not thinking the same things.
There are some who will surely say that what we need to think about is the soldiers who paid the highest price in order to defend our land. Or about the heroes of Israel whose blood was shed so that we might gain our national independence.
How unusual is it to find an entire country standing absolutely still, not speaking, not driving, while an unnatural sound fills the air? And not just any unnatural sound, but the sound of the tzefira, the siren? A sound that, if we hear it on a different day, would cause our hearts to beat rapidly and our hands to become sweaty. A frightening sound.
And as we stand there, no trucks, no buses, no cars are moving.
Several million people, who cannot be persuaded to do something together at any other time, suddenly co-operate in doing something at precisely the same moment that brings no personal benefit to any of us. Why?
I feel deep gratitude to the men and women who fought to defend our country.
But it is terribly difficult for me to think about 25,578 korbanot (victims, deceased). I want to feel the pain of their lost futures. Their goodwill and their dedication to our land, our people and our history and the terrible result demand that I should try.
But in the end, it is a number that my mind simply cannot hold.
I have visited many countries. I have never seen anything like an entire nation of people come to a standstill, leaving their cars in the middle of the highway, standing there on the pavement with their heads bowed. I think it is one of the most powerful and moving sights imaginable.
Even as I struggle to think about the vast pain of an entire nation honoring the memory of thousands of its dead soldiers and police and terror victims, I ask myself: But what does it mean? What good does it do to remember?
There are, as I said, large differences between us. All of us can see that while some of us have paid a terrible personal price for the blessings in our lives, others appear to have been completely excused.
There are people who can explain this. Their explanations do not speak to me.