Israel’s flag is waving at half mast and the memory of 23,169 lost Israeli soldiers and victims of terror has quieted the nation on Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Remembrance Day.
No music plays in the neighborhoods, and children are not laughing today on the streets. A somber air is felt throughout the country as Israelis remember their fallen.
Some of those are not even Jewish. They are Bedouin or Druze or Circassians who have thrown in their lot with their Jewish neighbors. They, too, have paid the price.
Few indeed are those in this country who have not lost at least one family member in military action or terror, or are not close to someone who has, in the struggle to fulfill the mitzvah to hold this Holy Land, Eretz Tzion, Israel.
By age 16, all Jewish teens in Israel receive their first IDF notice, summoning them for exams to determine a medical, educational and psychological fitness profile. The IDF recently announced it will soon begin to send voluntary draft notices to all Christian Israelis, offering them the chance to enlist in Israel’s army as well.
By 18, most boys and girls in this country are smiling and nervously getting into fitted green or camel-colored uniforms, queuing up at central bus stations before and after Shabbat and talking about what happened in their new units “at the base.”
They’re babies, really — babies learning how to face killers; other babies fed on evil hatred since birth. Last year, 40 died, though some of those were reservists, IDF soldiers who return to serve 30 days a year to help the “newbies” and the career soldiers keep Israel safe from its enemies. “Reservists” can be soldiers in their 20s — or as old as 40.
“It is difficult, if not impossible, to show those that haven’t experienced it the size of the grief that befell us, the intensity of the shock that grasps us, and the sense of loss that fills us,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu explained at Monday’s ceremony at Mount Herzl military cemetery, attended also by President Shimon Peres, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and a host of other officials.
Paraphrasing and slightly changing a well-known Psalm of King David, he said, “There, we sat at the graves of our loved ones, and wept, and we remembered our loved ones that fell for the sake of Zion.”
Sweeping the entire People of Israel into unity with Israel’s grief over its fallen, the prime minister said, “On this day, the entire people relates to the heroes of the nation. They come from all parts of the nation and from all parts of society. The simple truth that is the most concise is this: we would not be here if it were not for their sacrifice.
“Even if it means unparalleled pain, a great miracle happened here. Israel returned to her country, to her home, established a state and did wonders, but at this moment we should not forget that it is a privilege to be here.”
People came to their feet across the country as a siren wailed into the skies at 11 o’clock in the morning, reminding Israelis of the price paid for peace, and Israel’s defense.
A candle lighting ceremony at the Western Wall last night, announced by the nationwide siren at eight o’clock in the evening, also featured an address by President Peres.
“We, the Israelis, are not like every people,” the president pointed out. “Already for years a sad generation hasn’t relaxed, hasn’t been able to enjoy a time of happiness. Our joy is always missing. A cloud of sadness envelops us. It is deeply hidden, but one can see it in our eyes.”
The president spoke of parents who lost their children, “the image of the soldiers that fell in Israel’s wars… They did not have time to plant a tree. They didn’t taste the full flavor of love. They left behind you, the bereaved families… and us, the friends, to painfully remember.”