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Thoughts on Yom Hazikaron After October 7th

This year, Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day is going to be different than so many others. The shadow of October 7 is still hanging over the country, with too many fresh graves, and the war it still going on.  Several soldiers have fallen in the past few days due to the new incursion into Gaza.  After seven months of war, we once again see the all too familiar line that we now know to recognize, ‘cleared for release’ announcing more fallen heroes.  Human nature is that we get used to things that occur frequently in our lives, yet we must make sure that does not happen.

Each brave soldier is a son, a sibling, a friend, a whole world lost, and a family is in mourning.  Yom HaZicharon is an opportunity to reset that awareness, that sensitivity and that feeling of loss for our brothers and sisters.  It is time to reflect on the fact that young Israelis are putting their lives on the line for us, for our country, for the future of Israel and of the Jewish people.  They are making the ultimate sacrifice.

For most of us, besides those in our community who are lone soldiers or who are in the reserves, it is difficult to imagine what inner strength it takes to be in a combat unit in the IDF, and to put one’s life on the line.    Picture yourself in Gaza, with the heat, the dust, and the danger hanging over your head.  The feeling of determination and at the same time the trepidation inside yourself and in the comrades at one’s side.  It is very difficult for me to truly feel what that experience must be like.

We say in the Shma prayer, ‘You shall love G-d with all your soul.” The Talmud (Brachot 54a) tells us this means we should be being willing to give up one’s life for G-d and the Jewish people. This is one of the ideas we are mean to meditate on in the Shma.  Our soldiers are living this. How are they able to do this?  They are following in a long line of Jews who gave their lives for their beliefs, for the Jewish people from the Roman persecutions to the crusades to the pogroms. Rabbi Haiim Volozin (Ruach Hachaim 5:3) says that as Jews we have inherited a ‘spiritual DNA,’ from our forefather Abraham who was willing to give up his life for his belief in G-d.  It is rooted in the spiritual makeup of who we are.  Without this insight I cannot understand the bravery of the young men and women in the IDF.

Those of you who are in our community of olim in Tel Aviv have made a big commitment to Israel and to the Jewish people by moving here, and we should feel proud of that.  Yet we can continue to ask ourselves whether we have the appreciation and gratitude to those who are making the ultimate commitment to Israel and the Jewish people.  We can ask ourselves whether we are living up to our own aspirations of dedication to Israel and the Jewish people, and what more we can do.  We do this not to feel guilty, but to be grateful and to motivate ourselves to do more.

This is the significance of going from Yom Hazikaron right into Yom Haaztmaut on the next day.  We think and talk about the sacrifice and the dedication of those who have come before, and we then celebrate the reality of what Israel is and what is will be.  We celebrate the incredible miracle of what we have built as a people, and we hope and pray to the Almighty for a future that is safe and peaceful, happy and joyful, and the fulfillment of the flourishing of Jewish life in our land.

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