Next week we will commemorate Yom Hazikaron. A day which touches all of our hearts. Over the years there have been numerous personal experiences that have magnified the significance of Yom Hazikaron for me. They have provided a strong emotional connection and meaning to the way in which I commemorate this most important day. I would like to share some of these with you.
Last year I was honoured to recite the Yizkor prayer at the Communal Yom Hazikaron ceremony.
The evening was very moving as always but there were something that one of the speakers said that really touched me emotionally. She was describing the reality of the day for many in Israel. She expressed how there are things in life which are usually routine, uneventful – things to which we often pay little or no attention. A knock on the door was the example used. In Israel, however, sadly and tragically, the knock on the door might be a dreaded sound. The reality of a military representative standing at the entrance of the home, coming to inform a family that they have lost a mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter, is something which every Israeli fears.
For five consecutive years I had the privilege of leading Birthright Israel programs. Meeting the IDF soldiers who joined our group for a few days on each of the trips was always a highlight of the trip. Getting to know these young women and men and then standing next to them at our visits to the military cemetery in Israel, watching the tears role down their cheeks, feeling their pain, hearing the stories of their friends or family members killed serving our Homeland, made this door knocking imagery that much greater. There is almost no one in Israel who hasn’t lost a loved one or doesn’t know someone who has been bereaved. Imagining the sound of the door knock makes the reality of the trauma of the day feel that much more real.
The second experience occurred on one of the above-mentioned trips. I often recite the Mi Shebayrach Prayer for the soldiers of the IDF at my Shule on Shabbat. It is always very special but this particular occasion changed the reality of the prayer for me ever since.
We were farewelling the soldiers who had joined our group at Mount Hertzel Memorial Cemetery. I don’t think there were dry eyes amongst the group. One of the soldiers told of her childhood friend, who soon after joining the army, was killed in the line of duty. This was a friend with whom she had graduated high school. A friend with whom she had shared every important milestone. They would never get the chance to share any more experiences together. The raw emotion and pain seen on her face, gave all of us a brief glimpse into the experience that so many Israeli families have had to endure over the years. Immediately following her talk she asked me to recite the Prayer for the IDF. Reciting the prayer while standing next to her and the others, in the military cemetery, with thousands who have lost their lives whilst in service, was almost an out of body experience. I will never forget the moment and her words will be forever etched in my mind and heart.
The final experience occurred one evening during a Birthright trip. It was the first night of Chanukah and we were in a town called Arad. We joined with hundreds of fellow Jews attending a public Menorah lighting. The ceremony was dedicated to the memory of Ron Kokia, an IDF soldier who was killed in a terror attack at the same venue, just a few weeks earlier. His parents, siblings and the soldiers from his unit were all present.
The feeling of solidarity and unity was just beyond words. To hear Ron’s father speak was deeply moving. There could have been a rivers of tears flowing through the streets. He spoke of the overwhelming support by the whole community. His words are etched in my mind for eternity. I approached Ron’s father after the service and conveyed to him that his family from Australia had him in our thoughts and prayers. We wished him wishes of comfort and condolences. He replied with a smile that we are indeed one family.
This year, whilst we are again thousands of miles away from Israel, we are nonetheless with all of Israel in spirit. May the door knockings throughout Israel be a knock of a friend, coming to tell the good news of a simcha, or even just to borrow a few eggs. May HaShem bless all the members of the IDF. May we merit peace and joy in our Holy Land!