April 25, 2012

Baruch Dayan Emet

Baruch Dayan Emet.

Just yesterday, we lost my Auntie Diane. She died of cancer and at 76, she was a young and vibrant woman. She was a dear mother, a loving sister, and a wonderful aunt.

Just yesterday, we stood in silence as the siren wailed in memory of our fallen soldiers and victims of terror.  It was 8 pm and the blue and white flag was lowered. The entire country stood still, heads fallen, shoulders stooped, hands humbly joined behind backs. In Israel, even young children with long pigtails and knee socks know how to stand in this position. They know how to giggle, to bounce on a teeter totter, to ride a bike hands free-- and they know how to mourn.

The sadness here is profound.

Since 1948, some 23,000 people have died in service. Many of them were 18 years old. At every Yad Lebanim, the memorial hall dedicated to fallen soldiers that is found in the center of every Israeli town, people gather and remember. Parents, siblings and children of lost ones silently walk across the stage and lay a wreath. Candles flicker. Photos flutter onto a wall, eerily moving across the makeshift screen until it is filled with faces that smile innocently at us, yet no longer laugh.

We hear their stories and share their families’ tears. One father said after losing a son in the tragic 1997 helicopter crash when 73 soldiers were killed, he still has three sons. Because he does. His son stays in his thoughts at every birthday party, the lighting of each Chanukah candle and in the stillness of the night.  One mother confessed deep regret in not telling her son how much she loved him. She was busy rushing off to work and returning home tired, with cooking, with cleaning, with life. Like all of us. And then her son was gone.  Too soon. Too few hugs.

The radio plays songs of remembering, of loss and of what could have been, should have been –and is not. How can such a small, young culture have so many songs that lament? The TV airs shows on the strength, the valor, and the bravery of the soldiers who fell. We mourn at night and we mourn all day.
As soon as I returned home from this ceremony, the phone rang. It was my brother Barry and the news was bad. My Auntie Diane had passed away. My heart sank lower.

Although we lived on different continents, she in London and me in Toronto, I was able to spend quality time with her over the years and feel privileged to have known her.

As a child, I watched her closely, listening and observing; and she taught me so much. I observed her unbound energy, always seeing the positive side, never uttering a word of complaint. I saw eyes bright with knowledge and a thirst to learn more. I felt her warm smile, one that never dimmed. She was always helping, quickly moving about, alert to see that everyone was happy, well fed, comfortable. Yet when it came time to listen and share, she would sit down and make me feel as if she had all the time in the world.

I admired her extensive knowledge of languages, classical music, politics, history and creative talent for art and gardening. She had a love for the outdoors, adventure, exercise, yoga and healthy eating. I saw and I learned and I hope I internalized a small part of this.

I am so grateful that my Auntie Diane was with us at the bar mitzvah of my son Shaya. It was only six weeks ago and now she is gone. She was in great pain, and yet she came. She walked through the steep cobblestoned alleys in the Old City of Tsfat, across rocky archeological sites and the entire length of the beach boardwalk in Herzeliya. She stayed up late at the many festive meals. She did not miss a beat. She smiled throughout.  She did not complain of discomfort once; instead, she apologized. She was a model of strength, endurance and optimism. Over those days, she also connected with my children. And when my younger daughter Talya heard the sorry news, she ran up to her room in tears.

Her day of passing coincides with this very sad day in Israel, Yom Hazikaron L’chayalim.

On this day, I will mourn with all of Israel and I will also remember the intensity, the fullness and the beauty of my Auntie Diane’s life. And  on this day, when I hear the siren wail, I will also remember my personal fallen hero.  

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