May 11, 2016

No better place to be

Remembrance Day for the Fallen Soldiers is one of the hardest days here in Israel. Every town and city, moshav and kibbutz has a gathering the evening before. 

When the siren wails across the country at 8pm sharp, every adult and child stands still and quiet. I am always saddened to see that even very young Israeli children know how to stand so still, arms at their sides, heads bowed, unflinching. 

Then the names are read; these are the names of soldiers from the town, those who have fallen in the line of duty since Israel’s founding in 1948. And then the names of the victims of terror are read out.

In our small sleepy town of Ra’anana, a place that, some 60 years ago, was once swampy, mosquito-infested citrus farms, the number of fallen is 258. During the first week of the Yom Kippur war, 30 Ra’anana boys were killed, half of them losing their lives in the first two days of this war. I cannot imagine the cries, the many funerals, the grief and the tears that soaked the ground during those days. And the pain never leaves.

Last night, at the ceremony at Yad Lebanim in Ra’anana, the widow of a fallen soldier spoke on stage. Her husband, a new immigrant from Columbia, was proud to be serving in the IDF. He was killed at the age of 25, leaving behind a young wife and one-year-old son.

This tragedy happened 40 years ago and his widow was still so heart broken, she had to stop speaking to control her sobs. The loss of so many young sons and husbands over the few years of Israel’s existence is massive.

At the same ceremony, we saw a film about a Ra’anana boy who was killed in the first Lebanon war during a patrol. Guy was 21 years old and a week away from being released from the army. The film showed photos of a gorgeous blue-eyed boy with long, dark curls and, at his side in almost every childhood shot, stood his blue-eyed, blond brother.

Guy’s mother spoke of her intense grief over the death of her son, then said she felt guilty about being so absorbed in her loss, she had not paid attention to her other son who was also grieving. Beside her stood the blond-haired brother. He is now grey, around 50 years old and choked with tears.  The pain never leaves. And this pain accumulates as Israeli lives continue to be broken almost daily.

Yet we stand here and we grieve for each other and then we sing Ha Tikvah, the hopeful national anthem, understanding that we have longed for a homeland for over 2,000 years.

The siren wailed again at 11 am today. This time I stood in Ra’anana’s military cemetery. The ceremony ended with a gun salute. The bullets pierced the air and our hearts, echoing across that innocent blue sky, leaving us with the silence and the memories. 

Again, the ceremony ended with HaTikvah. We are here today and, thanks to all of these soldiers, we sing together about remaining strong and free.

The irony of all this pain is that Israel is one of the best places to live in the world. The InterNations Family Index just published their results and the numbers are there for us to see. As we stand in silence and tremble, we know there is no better place to be.

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