Israel Center

Today, Israel and the Jewish world observes Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s national Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism. Ceremonies nationwide honor the 23,447 servicemen and victims of terror who had fallen since 1860.

Since Yom Hazikaron last year, another difficult year has passed, one where individual terrorists introduced us to a new term, a bloody one-knife-drawing. This was a year when Palestinian teenagers became a threat. When a kitchen knife, placed alongside schoolbooks in bag packs made them a threat to soldiers, to innocent civilians, to normality.

These very young terrorists woke up one morning deciding that today would be their last. Deciding we are all their enemies, killing with their bare hands any hope for peace.

We have much in common with these young men and women. We speak a common language, use the same currency, ride the same public transportation, bear children at the same hospitals and breathe the same air. We share a love of the same land. But we don’t share the same dream; and we aspire to a different future. We teach our children to love the other, to reach out to the other and to find paths for peace. To reconcile, to live side by side. To live!

In January of this year, 17-year-old Renana Meir lost her mother, Daphna Meir, who was killed by a teenage Palestinian inside her own home in front of her children. She had six. Last month Renana and her father were invited by the Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations to address that body, where Renana said:

I have never intentionally harmed another person. It has never occurred to me to mistreat another human being just because he/she looks or thinks differently. I have never taken out my frustrations on people who haven’t done anything to me. I was not raised that way. I was raised to love the other. To respect all people, to love unconditionally, and to see each and every person as a human being. Three months ago, my mother was murdered. A Palestinian teenager came into my house and killed her in front of me and my siblings. It is hard to express in words how deep the pain is, how unbearable the longing is for my mother; and how this longing breaks the heart and the soul. And in spite of this, it would never occur to me to hurt another person. I do not hate or support hatred. No amount of frustration justifies hurting another person. With broken hearts we came here today to ask for your help. Help us by being patient. Help us create peace through love. Help us all to see that there is good in everyone.

Every victim killed has a name. They all had unfulfilled dreams, open desires and a future that didn’t reach its potential. They had families. Families that are forced to carry on with their lives followed by a dark shadow, one that will never leave them. One that constantly reminds them, like phantom pain, of what’s missing. They all have parents, children, husbands, wives, lovers who are left to live a life of pain, struggling each day to get out of bed, to smile, to breathe, to live. And for many, this is asking the impossible.

These families don’t need a special day of remembrance. For them, every day is Yom Hazikaron.

At 11:00 am on Yom Hazikaron, the entire state paused in silence for two minutes, as a siren wailed across the country, like a single cry carried in the wind. A country is in mourning.

Year after year, I join my husband to visit a bereaved family whom I really don’t know, but over the years I’ve become acquainted with through these visits. Their son Roni Levi, who served with my husband, fell in the second Lebanon war in 1982. Roni was 19 years old when he was killed, and since that moment, his entire family was changed forever. Roni’s mother lost her will to live, and dragged herself through life day after day for 32 years, until surrendering to cancer shortly after Yom Hazikaron two years ago, when I saw her last.

Visiting a family you don’t really know, but feeling so connected to them, is a powerful feeling. One that captures the essence of being Israeli. A feeling of unity, of being part of the whole, of one family.

And then, as the sun sets, and with it our tears and sorrow, the most unreasonable yet powerful transition happens: The state of Israel casts off its grief, adorning itself in the joy of Yom Ha’atzmaut. This year is our 68th miraculous year since independence, a testament to our strength and endurance. We exist.

Certainly, after such a painful year, our hope for peace remains out of our grasp. And yet Jews across the world pray for peace three times a day, every day, never losing hope.

Together we built a powerful magnificent Jewish state, and together, we stand united, remembering our heroes, sons and daughters— all those who have died in the long battle of protecting our home.

וְכִתְּתוּ חַרְבוֹתָם לְאִתִּים, וַחֲנִיתוֹתֵיהֶם לְמַזְמֵרוֹת—לֹא יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל-גּוֹי חֶרֶב, וְלֹא יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה.
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.Isaiah Chapter 2

Leah Garber
Vice President. Director, JCC Israel Center
leah@jcca.org