Last night…and again soon, an air raid siren will sound all over Israel. The children go to school dressed in white shirts and blue pants, the colors of the flag of Israel. The street is filled with flags in my neighborhood. Nearly every house has at least one flying; many cars are decorated with flags as well.Today is a day for thinking, remembering, comforting – unless you are the parent of a soldier in active duty. Then, today is a day not to think, not to imagine. When you get distracted and forget to stop your thoughts, you can hear the knock on the door when they come to tell you, you can see the soldiers standing and waiting for you to answer. It is usually at that moment you catch yourself. You never open that door.
I have friends who have opened that door, who have heard the news that forever changes their lives and that of their family. Today is a day you think of them. And when the siren starts, but usually even seconds before, you stand. Sometimes you close your eyes, but in a way, that’s worse. It allows the wailing sound to enter your body, reach down and grab your heart and squeeze it. The world, closed off and without sight, is too painful.
You think of your son or daughter. Mine is on the border standing between Israel and one of our enemies. He sent me a picture and when I complimented his photography, he sent me a message pointing out the border fence. I had seen it of course. I know where he is. I know what is on the other side of the fence.
I wrote him back and told him to tell his commanding officer that I don’t allow him to play near the fence. He writes back that the fence is on his base. That close, my heart cried out. That close? At least couldn’t they sleep a bit further away?
I wrote him back again. He’ll never know what it costs me to joke when tears stream down my face. “Tell your commanding office to move the base?” He writes back LOL – Laugh Out Loud – as I hoped he would. He’ll never know.
He’ll never know that as the siren wails and I stand in silence and listen, my thoughts aren’t on the 27,672 victims of battle and terror that have fallen since the State of Israel was reborn.
Each year, the National Insurance Institute releases the latest figures. They are always staggering. A total of 9,157 bereaved parents, 4,881 widows and 1,843 orphans under the age of 30. According to their number, 3,117 civilians have been murdered in terror attacks, including 122 foreign nationals. I think of Taylor Force, Hallel Yaffa Ariel, Tuvia Yanai Weissman, Kobi Mandell, Malki Roth, Ezra Schwartz and so many others. Another 100 Israelis killed in attacks abroad.
I try to think of these. Their names, their faces. How they died. I think of the children left behind, of the marriages they’ll never see, the grandchildren they’ll never have. But what I’m really doing, if I’ll be honest and confess, is trying not to think. Not to picture in my mind, not to imagine.
I used to go the ceremony each year and listen to the stories. Once my oldest entered the army, and for the 10 years since, it has been very hard for me. I try to listen but my eyes focus on the first rows of people and I find myself praying that God never lets me sit there. I watch the mother rise up and with a soldier, take the wreath representing the city’s paying respect to her son and I wonder how she can walk. The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other has never seemed to be such an accomplishment until I watch her do it quietly, gracefully, sadly.
The siren is loud and demands your attention. More, it demands your heart and your tears. In a land like no other, these minutes each year are uniquely Israel. Memorial Day in Israel is not about going to the beach, sales in the stores, and a chance to sleep late. It isn’t that way anywhere in the world – for the families of the soldiers who have died, paid the ultimate cost to protect their land.
And therein lies the difference. In most countries, the families mourn and the rest of the population either ignores the day, pays lip service to it, or racks up a much-anticipated day of vacation.
In Israel, there is no “rest of the population.” From every city, our children have come to defend our country. If our children are not soldiers, then our neighbor’s children are. The boy who has been bagging the groceries disappears and returns three year’s later, bigger, stronger, a soldier and no longer a teen looking for a bit of extra money.
My youngest son now serves. I have this Memorial Day and one more to get through with a son on active duty (not counting the next 20 years of reserve duty they will do every year). I’m tired of being a soldier’s mother. Tired of the fear that goes with it and most tired of all of the imagination that robs me of the ability to breathe.
There is so much more than fear, of course. There is tremendous pride. Love deeper than it is possible to imagine. Gratitude. Awe at the man emerging from the boy that entered the army and at the power and strength they knew they would find inside of him.
On most days, I can push through to the pride, to the honor of having a son serve in the army of the State of Israel. I can look at him standing tall and beautiful in his uniform and speak in my heart and my head to my great-grandmother who was murdered in Auschwitz. Look at him, see him. Don’t worry. Never again will they do to your children, your great grandchildren and your great great grandchildren, what was done to you.
Today is not most days. Today is agony. Pure. Simple. Agony. And I’m proud of that agony, of our ability to mourn and fear and pray, as the siren sounds and Israel comes to a stop.
May God bless the memories of our fallen soldiers and those murdered in cold blood. May He hold them in His heart, cherish them as we did, and help us honor their memory. And may He watch over our sons and daughters in the skies and on the sea and on the land. On the borders and on the bases and in the streets – as they protect us, please God, please please watch over them and next year when the siren comes again, please God let us only mourn for the same 27,672 lives we have lost and no others.
May God bless the State of Israel – reborn, reunited, free and ours forever.