November 6, 2014

The Power of A Plastic Poppy

Last week, Canada buried a fallen soldier.  There was press coverage across the country. Newspapers dedicated several pages to the story, displaying images of the funeral procession, the bereaved family, bouquets of flowers, garlands, flags, notes and tears. There was live news coverage of the procession where hundreds of people lined the streets of Hamilton, Ontario. Some wore red poppies, some red jackets.

This event touched a chord in most Canadians, whether they knew Corporal Nathan Cirillo or not. Here was an innocent man protecting a Canadian memorial. He was unarmed. And he was shot and killed simply doing a job he loved. He was young and, like us all, yearned to live a full, long life.

This was terrorism; an act of the most despicable kind of war where the enemy is disguised and the targets are innocent civilians. I have been in Canada as this whole story unfurled and have heard the comments, read the news stories and the editorials.

As I was sitting in a hospital TV room, nurses and families sat glued to the TV to watch the procession. One family discussed the merits of a private funeral. “Well, it should be private, for the family’s sake,” one woman commented.

And then it all came back; the agonizing summer in Israel when we lost over 70 young soldiers; times when there were several funerals a day. Intense mourning only to replaced with more mourning; and the fear, the trepidation every day that there would be more bad news.

In Israel, all funerals are open and people will drive across the country to attend. And when a funeral time is announced, Israelis often drop what they are doing to be there. This is because we are all family. We are united in our sorrow and we are united in our will to fight for our survival, to battle for our liberties, our freedom and our right to exist.

With last week’s Canadian tragedy past, the event seemed to be neatly filed away, perhaps interpreted as tragic, random.

I sincerely hope that Canada will not forget. Yet, now, ironically, Remembrance Day is the new debate. The Canadian Parliament is passing a bill to make November 11 a national holiday. Many believe this will belittle the day, while others feel Canada needs another day off.

And how will Canadians celebrate Remembrance Day if it is a day off work and school? I heard one radio talk show host lament that average Canadians, including new immigrants who do not even know what the day signifies, will sleep in and go to the mall.

And here I turn, yet again, to Israel. Our Remembrance Day for soldiers is not just a ‘day off.’ People do not go to school or to work, but they do not forget. Our Remembrance Day starts in the evening. All shops and restaurants shut down tightly. People gather in central areas of their communities for 8 p.m., in time to stand at attention for the siren that wails across the country. Every car, pedestrian, phone call and mundane matter is silenced.

And everyone remembers.  After the siren, the names are called; the names of soldiers who were lost in combat in that particular town and the names of those who were victims of terror. TV stations broadcast stories about the soldiers and the radio plays low-key music.

The next day, people visit the graves of the fallen and serving soldiers make sure every lost soldier, from the founding of the state 65 years ago to those who fell this summer in Gaza, has someone standing by his or her grave. It is somber and it is unifying. It makes us remember who we are and why we are here. 

Unlike Israelis, Canadians generally lead a calm, peaceful life with few threats and no known enemies. However, since Canada is fighting overseas in the name of democracy and freedom and the threat is now on Canada's shores, Remembrance Day should be extended to reflect our new world reality.

Given the events of the past few weeks, it is time Canada gave Remembrance Day more power than a plastic poppy and the wail of a bagpipe.

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