Tel Aviv, Israel, May 3, 2022
For me, it is the experience of a lifetime to be in Israel for two national days of mourning and remembrance. One takes place on what is now known worldwide as Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Day. Here it is called Yom HaShoah ve Ha Gevurah, gevurah meaning strength. At 10am all cars, buses, bikes, and pedestrians stop when the siren goes off and step out of their cars and stop in their tracks and stand at attention. It is an emotional two minutes.
Today was Yom HaZikaron or Remembrance Day for the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks. Last night at 8pm, there was a siren and again vehicles and pedestrians stopped and stood at attention.
On Israeli TV, a two-hour ceremony was held at the Western Wall or Kotel as it is known in Hebrew. There were moving speeches and invitees seemed to include only family members of fallen soldiers and terrorist victims. I could understand almost all of the speeches, in Hebrew, because they were delivered clearly and eloquently.
There were also stories of soldiers who had died in wars and conflicts, including Gaza, and each story was heart rending. We met the parents of the children they had lost and witnessed the agony of their loss. Life, they said, has never been the same. We remember them, they said, not only on holidays but every day.
There was a story about Bus 37 in Haifa which occurred years ago when a suicide bomber boarded a bus and killed everyone on the bus, many of whom were students, ages 13 to 17, returning home from school. The story featured three fathers who meet at the gravesides of their children regularly and talk about their lives and the children they lost. Two siblings from two families of the lost children were interviewed, born after the incident and recognizing that they were alive because their parents wanted not to forget but to go on living. They had only seen their siblings in photographs and had heard their stories from their parents.
And it goes on. The heartbreak, the terror, the loss of children, soldiers 20 or 21 or 44 years old. And people somehow go on living. Some 24,000 soldiers have died since the founding of the state in May, 1948 and over 100,000 soldiers are recognized as disabled. Add to that, victims of terrorist attacks, the latest on Dizengoff that killed three men in a bar. The numbers are staggering.
One story told was of two small children, recent immigrants from Ethiopia, whose yard was bombed some 18 years ago. The 2½ year-old girl had asked her father if she could go with him to the store to buy groceries. He said she should stay and play with her 4-year-old brother in the yard. Both were killed. We see on the faces of the parents bearing the pain they live with every day and how that father regrets his decision not to take his little girl with him to the store.
Today at 11am, on Yom Hazikaron (Day of Remembrance for the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks) I went out to the main street to watch the cars stop, the buses stop, the people stop, some praying beside their cars, many with heads bowed, standing for two minutes during the siren that can be heard throughout Israel telling us: Z’hor! Remember!
Tomorrow is Independence Day and Israel’s flags are already flying from cars, hanging from balconies, with children holding them proudly as they walk from their nursery schools. It will be a day to celebrate and be proud of Israel and its achievements. But for those families who lost their children in this never ending cycle of war and terror, it will be like every other day.