Israel recently commemorated Memorial Day in memory of its fallen heroes. Sadness permeates the day as we remember the sons, daughters and parents who have sacrificed their lives so that the Jewish Nation can continue to exist.
Compared to American losses in many wars, 25,578 (the number of all those who have died defending Israel, which includes military, police and security officers) is a small number. Yet, when we realize that almost every one of the 50 states in the U.S. is larger than the entire State of Israel, we can understand the immensity of the loss. We are so few, but because we are surrounded by hundreds of millions of fanatical enemies, we must be constantly vigilant, must continuously defend our country and must make too many sacrifices to continue to exist.
Memorial Day is a very difficult day for almost every Israeli. To lose twenty-five thousand young boys and girls is a huge tragedy and much too great a percentage of our youth. Everyone knows someone and too often it is their child, sibling, parent or loved one who has made the sacrifice. It is time for a miracle; it is time for peace!
The first president of Israel, Chaim Weitzman, proclaimed in 1947, prior to the creation of the State, that “The State will not be given to the Jewish people on a silver platter.” A few days after this was said, the Israeli poet, Natan Alterman, published his famous poem “The Silver Platter” about the young men and women who will sacrifice their lives so that Israel can live. “We are the silver platter on which the Jewish State was given,” he wrote and no words express the emotion of this day better.
Too many families spend Memorial Day morning visiting the final resting place of their loved ones. Every cemetery in the country has a ceremony. Every community has a commemoration. There is usually a great feeling of unity and brotherhood. This is our home; we are brothers and sisters; we are all part of the same family.
As the sun goes down on Memorial Day, we invite a young soldier in our community to raise the flag from half-mast. We experience, as a community, the transition from a day of silence and reflection to a day of dancing, singing and barbeques. Evening prayers in all of our shuls include Hallel and special Tehillim. Many wear holiday clothes and plan festive meals.
Israel Independence Day used to be celebrated with military parades, but it has been transformed into a family celebration with picnics and family meals and visits. In our Hashmonaim community we begin the evening celebration with a ceremony of flags, a performance by our young children, followed by a dramatic presentation and Hora dancing. The highlights of the evening are a fireworks display followed by a street fair. Many small groups spend the night singing and reminiscing about the early years of the nation and the service they gave to the country.
After the special morning prayers, the day is devoted to family. All of the country’s museums and many of the military bases are open for group visits at no charge. Every inch of space in public parks is filled with barbeque fires and people spending time together. The stress of the day is on family and friends. It is a day on which we give thanks that we live as a community in Israel. Let us all pray for peace in the very near future.