Today is Memorial Day in Israel – known as Yom Hazikaron in Hebrew. It is the day that we honour the memories of nearly 23,000 soldiers who have been killed in Israel’s wars over the years, and also the victims of terror who are also war casualties. For a country of less than 8 million people, this is a high number of casualties to have suffered in a short period of time. More than 100 of these casualties are names that have been added to the list since this day last year. Considering that this has been a period of relative quiet, it is a huge price to pay for a small country.
It is noticeable that Yom Hazikaron is dominated by the military. Memorial ceremonies are held at military cemeteries across the country, and a parade is held at the Kotel (the Western Wall) as part of the national ceremony presided over by the president and other dignitaries. Military personnel are deployed in every corner of Israel to make the army’s presence felt on this sad day. Those young men and women in uniform who are not required in any official role today, are encouraged to don their uniforms and attend memorial services in their local community. For many, this means a return to their former high school with their friends to attend the school’s memorial ceremony. It is not uncommon in Israel for former high school students to maintain close contact with their high school, by staying in touch with teachers and friends who are still students there. This contact seems to come to a head on Yom Hazikaron when many soldiers return to visit their high schools.
I witnessed this today first-hand when I saw khaki uniforms mixing with white shirts congregated around school gates. The white shirts represent the current students who are encouraged to wear white shirts in honour of the Memorial Day ceremony. The khaki uniforms are obviously the former students who are now serving soldiers. Besides bringing the important military presence to a ceremony which is all about the military, it also somehow brings home the reality of how close the military is to those students who are due to enlist in the near future. It is almost as though the soldiers are coming to pass the baton to those who will put be enlisting over the next 12 months. This is a really important part of our society, and something which motivates the next generation to want to play their part in the protection of the country and our people.
This year, I am in the unique position of having sons who are both in white and in khaki. I can see things from both angles through the eyes of my sons, one of whom is already serving and the other of whom is nervously looking towards the date in the near future when he will enlist. It is a source of enormous pride for me, and other parents like me, to see the enthusiasm and commitment with which our children are protecting the State of Israel and the Jewish people. This motivation is surely a source of power which gives our army a strength that is way beyond the modest numbers that are serving. That baton was passed today to the next group of young men and women who will serve their country, some beginning as soon as July of this year.
When I see how seriously our children take their responsibility and commitment to their military task, I know that we can all sleep easier at night. Just as has been the case in previous wars of Israel when miraculous feats have been achieved against the odds and when Israel was hugely outnumbered, our youngsters are determined to do all that they can to ensure that we do sleep easier at night. Even when they come home for evenings and weekends to enjoy some down time, they somehow always seem to have one eye on the news and on their telephone in case they may be needed for an emergency. Just like those that have served before them, there is nothing that would keep them from responding to this if required. There are surely few countries around the world that owe this debt of gratitude to their younger generation.
As Yom Hazikaron gives way to the jubilation of Independence Day, these same youngsters will be out partying to celebrate 64 years of the Jewish homeland. These have been 64 miraculous and remarkable years for Jews around the world, and this is due in no small measure to the soldiers of the IDF. It is our wish that these celebrations will continue for many more years in the future. We also pray for the safety of our soldiers that no further names will be added to the list of fallen soldiers and bereaved families.
Image by US Embassy Tel Aviv