November 16, 2012

We Will Never Forget

November 11 was Remembrance Day in Canada. It is also known as Armistice Day and in the US, it is called Veterans' Day. At eleven am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, the hostilities of World War I ended.

This is a time when people stop for a minute of silence and remember soldiers who died in the line of duty. When I was growing up in Toronto, veterans would stand on the street corners selling poppy pins. Everyone wore on their lapels and shirts. We would have a special assembly at school and learn about the world wars. This was a solemn day that everyone respected, young and old.

I was in Toronto this November 11. It was a Sunday and, to be truthful, I did not see many people wearing poppies. Tuning into ‘All-Talk Radio’ on that grey, drizzly day,  all I heard was how some Canadians would rather forget about Remembrance Day.  Someone was even campaigning on the streets, selling white poppies. Huh? Is this because she is a pacifist and poppies remind her of blood? The flowers that grow in Flanders Fields are, botanically speaking, red.

One radio commentator said that this was a day to remember fighting for freedom. This is noble, but I guess, after judging some Torontonians’ behaviour that day, not wholly practical. It was Sunday and people looked busy; there was Christmas shopping to be done at the malls. Toronto has become multicultural and multi-tasking. One minute of silence? That’s sixty seconds out of a day and from what I gathered being there last Sunday, for most, this small sacrifice was rather passé, almost antiquated. Some immigrants even decided to take that minute of silence to protest. 

I thought about all of this and found it a bit shocking. Sad. Distressing. In Israel, we mark Holocaust Day with a siren that wails from north to south, Mediterranean to the Jordan River. We step out of our busy lives, car pools,  rush hour, cell phone calls and business deals to stand for three minutes of silence. And on the Day of Remembrance for the Soldiers, we honour it the same way. Radios play solemn music, the TV stations airs programs about the wars we fought. And we remember. We cry. We are united in a national loss and a longing for peace.

In Canada, there are no threats on the borders. Seals doze on the icy northern shores and sailboats bob playfully along the vast Pacific and Atlantic coasts. No rockets are being lobbed onto Vancouver Island and there is no need to line up tanks in Charlottetown. Canadians do not have bomb shelters in their homes and 18-year-old boys are not drafted into the army for three years in the prime of their lives.

And here lies the difference. The wars Canada has fought in have been far away and they have been for freedom. Israel must defend its borders every day. We need not be forced to remember this and we will never take our freedom for granted.

Canada is fortunate not to be in this position, but the sadness is that people become so far removed from the true meaning of peace, they become almost numbed, left only with an urge to do Christmas shopping

As a postscript, while I was writing this on the plane returning from Toronto to Tel Aviv, war broke out in Israel. Again.  While Canadians shop, Israelis are once again in their bomb shelters; and while eighteen-year-old Canadians drink beer in the university pub, our young men are in uniform defending the country against terrorism.  Israelis will never forget.

1 comment:

Your comments are always welcome.