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The Saddest Memorial Day

It was sadder than sad. And even a day that is honored and commemorated every year in Israel- the memorial day for the fallen soldiers and victims of terror throughout the 160 years of the return of the Jewish people to its ancestral land-has its "hierarchy" of sadness. Official statistics that are published mention over 30,000 people who lost their lives from 1860, 5100 of whom were civilians. Above and beyond this painful number is the fact that in the last year (until 9 May 2024), 1600 Israelis were killed, including 834 civilians murdered, making up over 16% of all civilians killed since these statistics were compiled.

Sadness is not only a function of numbers, what is called "proportionality" does not comprehend the "hidden" factors that impact a nation's mood, its presence and absence of hope, its rage, its determination, its desire to make sense of who, what, where and why things are happening- where they may or may not be going.

Israel honors and profoundly marks each Memorial Day in a somber, collective and personal way. Sirens are blasted at the onset of the eve of Memorial Day and the following day when families and friends visit the cemeteries of their dear ones. Israeli media abound in somber, sad, reflective music, content, programs. One cannot avoid feeling that this day is a sacred one, even if one is light years away from any religious observance. This is "internal/external observance", to my mind, one that connects to the heart, to the tears, to the deepest part of one's being- both individual and collective. We "belong here", and to do that we pay a price, the exact level of this price is never really clear to me- is it to others? It is one day in which we feel both the sadness and pride of the past and sadness and hope of the future.

To be Remembered

This has been a terrible, terrible, terrible year- no matter how you look at it- the October 7, 2023, Simchat Torah holiday, barbaric and unprededented attacks of Hamas on Israel brought Israel into a confrontation that at the time of writing these words, 8 months later, is still far from coming to an end. The stories of what is and has gone on in Gaza, the unprecedented and unfathomable hostage crisis, the war of attrition on the northern border against Hizbollah, the internal effects on Israel, the conflict with Iran, the waves of anti-Israel and antisemitic demonstrations around the world...these will never be forgotten.

But what about those dear ones, those hundreds and hundreds of people who were killed and will never return, leaving scores of widows, orphans, huge holes in the souls of friends and families....will they be remembered? What does "to be remembered" actually mean?

To be remembered- is it only for those who stay or also for those who leave us? It is a deeply-rooted construct in our human lives, to leave a mark, a legacy, a sign we were here, we did this and did that, were this and were that. Those who remain "behind" here in the world, we remain with the pain and the longing, but those who "leave us", did we ever ask them how they want to be remembered? In the great majority of cases, the answer will be "No." And still we want to remember, we NEED to remember.

The famous, iconic song "Friendship", written by one of Israel's most noted poets of the 1948 era onward, expresses a deep longing to "remember them all...we will remember them all." You will hardly find an Israeli who will oppose the need, desire and existential longing to "remember". It is a deep part of the Jewish tradition, "Zachor", to remember, be it in the context of Jewish history, Zionist history, Jewish survival. And yes, human survival.

To remember them, not an easy task but one with deep, sacred signficance.

It is sad, however, very sad. This year more than ever. Let's remember. Remember them all. Perhaps by remembering them in the past we will be able to bring more hope to our future.

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