The shrill of the siren pierced my ears. I was standing with my head bowed, in reverent silence at my daughter’s Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism) ceremony at her school, commemorating the solemn day together. I must admit last year was the first time I felt like I truly experienced Yom Hazikaron. A sad admission since it was the sixth one since we moved to Israel.
Growing up in America, Memorial Day was a time to catch the latest sales, enjoy a day off, or head to the beach; it was not a time of mourning for me. Yom Hazikaron in private Jewish day school was given more veneration. Typically, a speaker would come to our school, perhaps an Israeli official or officer, and talk about a war they fought in and about the people they had lost in battle. The speech was always moving, but it was still hard to relate to their feelings of loss and sorrow. Israel seemed so far away, and war was something I learned about in history class or read about in the newspaper; it was removed from my daily living.
When I came to Israel, I tried to get into the spirit of the day. I would say Tehillim (Psalms) while the siren blared, standing near the window, watching as the world around me came to a standstill. Yet, I was in a bubble still, never having experienced the heartache that others felt so acutely on this day.
This past year however, my daughter was an active participant in the commemoration ceremony at her school, and she insisted I attend. I watched and listened as stories of young soldiers who had lost their lives in the wars were shared by even younger students. I heard songs asking for war to end and peace to reign. And then the siren wailed.
I stood alongside people for whom war wasn’t some distant idea, but a reality of daily life. I heard the soft sound of sniffles and saw the misty eyes and tears running down cheeks. I realized that misery must be shared, not only to be relieved but also to be believed. Here I could no longer stay in my bubble and I had no wish to. I felt the lump form, as my eyes brimmed over. I cried for the lives lost and the sorrow of the families left behind to mourn them. I cried for the innocent boys and girls standing before me, praying they will be spared when they are called to serve their country. But most of all, I cried for those of us who do not know how to mourn, like me, who feel removed from it all.
As a Jew however, we are never really removed from the pain and sorrow of our brothers and sisters; nor should we ever wish to be. I call upon us all to learn about this beautiful country, our heritage and our wars. Let’s not allow Yom Hazikaron to become a day only for those who have suffered personal losses; go out and attend a ceremony or call someone who has lost a loved one. Misery needs company, or it will turn to agony. That’s how Israel has endured so much suffering; binding together as one in the hard times. Israeli’s don’t go shopping on Memorial Day, they go to ceremonies and gravesides. They have taught me that I do not exist only for myself and that I am far from alone. Misery loves company, it needs it… so it may turn into something more; gratitude for the life we are living and for the hope that one day we will live in a time where sadness and sorrow will be but a distant memory.