Today is Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers in Israel. Families, friends, people who want to show they care all came to the military cemetery on Mt. Hertzl in Jerusalem this morning. It was a very powerful experience. The atmosphere was not mournful as I expected it would be. Many of the soldiers passed away a number of years ago, and what I heard from the way the families spoke about them was that they moved beyond their extreme grief to another outlook. I would call it sense of purpose. Even the mother who told people standing around her about her son who died in friendly fire spoke with a sense that her son served with determination, and his life was given for the Jewish people. The feeling of unity was incredible. People would just walk up to the families, ask about their children (most of the graves are of 18-24 year olds), offer words of support and comfort and just listen. They all share the loss because most of the extended families in Israel have suffered a loss.
What was striking was also all the different types of Jews and families. There was Shabtai Shazo, 19 years old. The family was just standing around his grave hugging and remembering, and something touched me deeply about them. He passed away in 1998. You can see his picture next to the grave. Then there was the Ethiopian soldier whose mother was being supported and consoled by so many. The next place I went to was the grave of Michael Levin, the American lone soldier. His family was a typical American Jewish family. Michael went on a Birthright trip, and was so inspired by Israel that he wanted to come back and serve his country. Other Lone Soldiers came up to them and told them what an inspiration Michael is to them. His parents have dedicated themselves to helping other lone soldiers who come to serve in the Israeli army. The final picture is that of soldiers saluting for the singing of Hativka at the end of the memorial program.
After Hatikva, everyone just started spontaneously singing “I believe in perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he might be delayed, I still wait for him every day.” The power of the Jewish people is that we are optimists who believe in the hope of a better world, even in the face of loss and pain. May the souls and the memory of those who gave their lives for the Jewish people and the land of Israel be blessed, and may they inspire us to give of ourselves, each in our way for the Jewish people and Israel. We are a people who celebrate our blessings, as we go from mourning to joy, from Yom Hazikaron, Remembrance Day to Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.