Monday, May 05, 2003

Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel's Wars)
Many come early in the morning. Some come with little folding chairs, others have with them buckets and brushes to clean up a bit before the crowds start coming. A soldier girl waits at the gate and greets each person with a flower and bottles of water. So no one should faint in the heat. It's always so hot.

No one asks for directions. Everyone knows the way. Many have been coming here year after year on this day for over half a century. For some it is their first time. Each and every one of them would rather not be here. What would they not give to have been spared this?

Gradually the stream of people increases. By nine o'clock there is a steady flow. By ten o'clock the tension is rising as people begin to be anxious that they will be late, more and more of them passing through the gates all the time. They are from all walks of life, old and young, rich and poor, healthy and frail, Jews - Ashkenazi and Sephardi, religious and secular, but also Druze, Bedouin. United in grief, they make their way slowly along the familiar paths, under the unrelenting sun that does not know to distinguish them from the rest of us. By a quarter to eleven there are thousands flooding through the gates, a sea of people now rushing to get there in time.

And at one minute to eleven everyone is in place, each standing by the grave of a loved one. A hush falls. Any moment now it will start, the three-minute siren that opens the ceremony, the memorial service. For these are the families and close friends of the 21,540 fallen Israeli soldiers and members of the Israeli security forces. These are the people who pay the price.

This is the real Israel you seek. Come here on this day, for this is where it is to be found. Come and see them. They are all here, tens of thousands of them, and more. The parents who buried their children, never to dance at their weddings; the children who grew up not knowing their fathers, with no one to call "Abba" (Daddy); the wives who grew old alone with their memories of young handsome husbands, of love that was not destined to mature; the men who held their friends in their last moments, forever to ask themselves why they were allowed to continue their lives.

This is their day. On this day we share their pain with them. On this day we honor them and their terrible sacrifice.