Yom Ha’zikaron -- Israel’s Remembrance Day


At ten o’clock at night, tomorrow, the air raid alarm will sound throughout Israel. It will begin in a plaintiff deep sound which in three or four seconds will become a shrill whining sound that will drag on and on for what will seem like forever... No, it will not be the warning signal of a sneak attack by the enemy who is still only a heartbeat away; nor will it be a drill or a mock-attack. The sound will be the call to remember. Throughout the length and breadth of the land that is under the control of the sovereign government of Israel, life will come to a standstill as all will pause and remember the 18,538 men, women and children who have died in the battle for the creation and survival of the renascent Jewish commonwealth.

It is only right and fitting that Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day for its war dead, should come on the eve of its Independence Day. Israel shares much of its ideals and facts of being with our country, with our nation -- the United States. Like us, Israel had to stake its claim to statehood in the face of a British ruler and other camp followers who did not wish to see the "natives" ruling themselves. Like us, Israel was born in the smoke and din of battle. However, unlike the U.S., Israel has not known a day of rest and peace since the time of its founding. There was a war for independence in America -- but it was not fought with the kind of odds that existed in the Promised land. The entire population of the Jewish state-in-the-making could have been placed in one of the large cities of Revolutionary America. 600,000 Jews, in a hostile ocean of more than 200 fold Arabs, and 300 fold Moslems, and an uncountable number of anti-Semites world wide, had to fight for their lives while planning and executing a mission of retrieving and healing the remnant of the persecuted and annihilated communities of Europe, the Arab world, Africa and South America.

David Ben-Gurion, the midwife at the birth of the state, said that he had been advised to wait, to avoid making the declaration of Independence. Yet he knew all to well that the question "is this the right time to declare a state" is the wrong question. He asked himself, "will there ever be a time when the world will allow the Jews to have a state without strife, without war?" And he knew that the answer to that question was -- only in the days of the Messiah!" David Ben-Gurion was a man of great faith -- but he was not prepared to wait for Messiah to come. Neither did any of his colleagues. The funding fathers of the State of Israel looked around them and saw the field of slaughter, filled with the victims of generations upon generations of persecution. They realized that there would be a heavy price to pay for the state -- and they stipulated among themselves that possibly the whole enterprise will not succeed. However, they reasoned that the time was propitious, and the chance was definitely worth taking!

Israel came into being in at the end of two millennia of Jewish yearning and pining for a homeland. Long before Theodore Herzl wrote his now famous little pamphlet, "Judenstat," Yehuda Halevi, a Sephardi poet, stated "libi bamizrakh va’anokhi beyarketey ma’arav -- my heart is in the East while I am at the very end of the West. Throughout all times, Jews went out of homes and lands where they were born and where they had made a life for themselves -- to "go home" -- to return to a place that existed to a great extent only in their heads, only in their secret hearts, their personal Temple that is beyond the reach of any and all enemies of Judaism. They traveled by ship, they rode in carriages and they even walked -- some walked for years, crossing lands and continents, migrating "home" -- possibly only to get there to find their last resting place. To die and be buried in Jerusalem -- ah, that was a good way to end one’s life, no matter how old one was.

We Jews have never been a warlike people. Our Torah taught us a lesson of peace and brotherhood. Again and again it exhorted us to be kind to "the poor and the stranger in our midst" -- reminding us that we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. It did not remind us how poorly we were treated by the Egyptians. That was not necessary. We remembered, anyhow, and besides, we were told, don’t descend to their level, keep in mind the lesson of Hillel: "what is abhorrent to you, do not do to your neighbor."

So on the fourth of Iyar, 5708, only three years after the end of the worst massacre in the history of the Jewish people, David Ben-Gurion stood at a special gathering in the Tel-Aviv Museum, and read a short proclamation: Megilat Ha’atzma’ut -- the Scroll of Independence. Already, at that moment of its reading, the scroll had been paid for with the lives of our people. Shoshana Stern, a young lawyer from Jerusalem, a mother of two, died of wounds she received in a shooting at a bus on the day after the U.N. partition plan decision on November 29. Thirteen died from the destruction of the Palestine Post building by a car-bomb placed there to still the voice of reason that called for peace and cooperation. A seventeen year old boy I knew and whose name, alas I do not remember, was killed on his way home from school, his fifteen years old sister was gang raped and left for dead. She was not killed, though her sanity was gone. Danny Maas, the son of a friends, died in a failed attempt to bring first aid supplies to besieged Kfar Etzyon. Thirty four young men died with him. I remember them all. There was Ben-Yoseph, a poet and song writer, and Avraham Tavila, nick named Beytzi, a promising pianist. There was Shoshi, a twenty year old beauty with black curls and a winning smile, whose femininity all acknowledged, but who was ‘one of the boys,’ and was killed in battle, a 45 caliber Tommy gun blazing in her hands, ripping apart the advancing enemy with her last breath. These were but a few, some named, others nameless. All of them left behind parents and siblings and a nation that was the poorer because they were gone -- a nation that was so rich, because they had lived. They are dead -- they are not forgotten. Their memory is a blessing for all the living.


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