Personal reflections on Israel's Remembrance Day

Today, Israelis marked the Day of Remembrance for the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. As I do every year, I went to the main military cemetery on Mount Herzl. I visited the grave of my best friend, Omri, who will forever remain 20 years old, youthful, smart, funny and a loyal friend. Like 22,000 other soldiers buried on that mountain and in other military cemeteries all over the country, his life was full of potential – he had ideas, desires, dreams to fulfill, a life to live. 

Standing by his grave, I looked around me. Over a 100,000 people were gathered as the siren howled for two minutes at 11 a.m. sharp. Row after row of tombs, all identical, all carrying similar headstones, all uniform. And the headstones mark the names of the fallen and the names of their parents. And their ages: 18, 19, 20 years old. Mere kids, children whose destiny it was to live in and to die for a country that needs to fight a constant battle so that others may live peacefully and quietly, so that their parents, their siblings and their friends may live a normal life. 

Meanwhile, life here is anything but normal. It is not normal that children receive a gas mask when they are born. It is not normal that every 18-year-old boy, every 18-year-old girl, should serve for two or three years in the army. It is not normal that a country stands as one for two minutes, remembering 18-year-old kids. It is not normal that parents bury their children, in a twisted, upside-down world order. It is not normal that grieving mothers should live 30 and 40 years with that kind of loss, forever irreparable. 

At the cemetery, I looked around me. Thousands of bereaved parents, brothers, sisters, orphans all standing around the graves of loved ones. Ashkenazis, Sephardim, religious and secular, young and old, united by grief. The great Israeli equalizer. No differences between them. Rich and poor alike, whose lives are forever, indelibly marked by the ultimate sacrifice paid so that we may have one small Jewish state. 

Next to each grave there stood a soldier, sent by the unit that the fallen soldier had belonged to. These soldiers, themselves 18 and 19 years old, were sent to represent their units at the ceremony. These young men and women never knew the fallen soldiers but come to pay their respects to the fallen and to their families.

We stood together, in a surreal triangle: My 20-year-old fallen friend Omri, this 20-year-old soldier from Omri’s unit born years after he died, and me – almost 50 years old – the same age that Omri would have been if he were alive today. Every year I visit my friend and to me he remains 20; the soldiers sent from his unit are always 20. Only I grow older, year after year, without my best friend.

We stood there with millions of other grieving Israelis who will never again see their loved ones because we chose life, because we chose to live here in our land, together, in spite of our differences, proud to be Israeli. 

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