Israel gives Memorial Day it’s due.
Yom Hazikaron, Israeli society’s day to remember it’s fallen soldiers and those lives lost to terrorist attacks, weighs heavily on Israel’s communal heart. As the sun goes down on the day, however, a switch is flipped, and an unbridled joy sweeps across the country. Riding a wave of relief, young and old take to the streets to sing and dance, that same communal heart racing to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day.
In Israel, our six degrees of separation are reduced to two. Everyone knows someone who has experienced the personal loss of a family member, friend or acquaintance to war or terror. So while the community shifts into celebration mode, many individuals remain clenched in the pain and sadness of the national day of mourning. And those who are dancing know that some among their friends can’t bring themselves to do so. Still, the memorial day adds meaning and purpose to the independence day that follows. It is the broken glass at the wedding. The joy of the second is an informed joy, and the loss remembered is appreciated for what it has made possible. The losses have not been in vain; the sacrifices are not unnoticed or unappreciated. Sadly, Yom Hazikaron is the silver platter upon which Yom Haatzmaut is served, and the platter needs to gleam freshly polished if the main dish is to be enjoyed.
I wonder what these two days will look like when Israel is 340 years old. Will we still be reading names of fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism before celebrating Jewish sovereignty, or will Israel have achieved six degrees of separation from the suffering? And what might that look like? Could Israel’s national days become back to back days for barbecuing and hitting the malls for sales? Somehow, I don’t think so. I imagine that even, God willing, when there are no fresh names to read, and the thousands who have died in sacrifice are generations in the past, the proximity of these two days will carry the same impact as the moment “If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither” is recited under the chuppah.
If you’ve ever come to our synagogue, you’ve passed by the Camp Shanks memorial, a site erected in honor of those soldiers who passed through Camp Shanks on their way to Europe in World War II. I see it every day of my life (except sick days or a rainy Shabbat). It is a powerful reminder that even a country without enemies on its borders has endured loss and has demanded sacrifice, which all too often go unappreciated. I don’t know how many years 9/11 will continue to be remembered by so many of us as a day of solemn assembly. I don’t think that the degrees of separation from personal loss should diminish the respect and appreciation we show for the sacrifices that have assured our freedoms.
This year, at 9:45am on Memorial Day, immediately following an 8:45am morning service at which a memorial prayer will be recited as part of our Torah service, I will walk down the street to stand at the Walkway of American Heroes. I will be surrounded by veterans and families of veterans, by those who have known loss and those who have known service, by local community members who make remembrance a part of their joy. I hope I will be surrounded by you.
Rabbi Craig Scheff