Yesterday, in accordance with Israeli’s unique way of scheduling it right before Independence Day, Memorial Day for Fallen soldiers was marked in Israel. On this day, families visit cemeteries. As in many countries, the media broadcast stories about fallen heroes and their families while a siren is sounded twice, once on the eve and once in the morning of the day. Stores close early on the eve with “heavy” music broadcast on radio all day long. The names of the fallen in chronical order of their death are read throughout the 24 hours. Unfortunately, they are sufficient names to recite to fill the entire period. All in all, it is a heavy, sad day broken at the end by the changing of the guard ceremony at the Knesset, which signals the beginning of Independence Day and time to light up the barbeques.
Yet, to a certain degree, I feel alien to this Memorial Day. I simply have no experience with death by fire in any form. My father, still alive, survived World War II with no permanent injuries. My brother and I reached 18 after the Vietnam War and mandatory draft in the United States ended. I don’t know any one that was killed or wounded in military service, either in the United States or Israel. My daughter never served in the IDF. The only deaths I have experienced at all were my grandmothers, who were quite aged, in their 80’s and 90’s. I am still a virgin to bereavement.
By contrast, most Israelis know what death is. They have had friends and family killed or wounded during military service or terrorist incidents. My wife had a brother killed in service when she was a small child. Memorial Day carries significance to most Israelis, except for a few extra ultra-orthodox that do not consider themselves Israeli in any case.
I do not mean that I feel no emotion. As I watch parents, children and siblings talk about their loss, I become very sad. Tear well up. I also sense the heavy atmosphere. Memorial Day is not like any other day. It has its own weight. Yet, to be honest, my sympathy is of the universal type, the feeling we can share for anybody that has lost a loved one, regardless of the circumstances. Any decent human being can understand lost and empathize with an individual experiencing that loss. Yet, I cannot imagine the pain of parents that must bury their own children. It is clearly awful but beyond my comprehension.
Some would say that I should be grateful for being so fortunate as to have never experienced such pain. The fact is that my naivety results from pure luck. I was born after World War II and was too young for the Vietnam War and too old for IDF service. Neither I nor my family has ever been in the wrong place and time during my 28 years in Israel, including the rocket attacks on Karmiel during the Second Lebanese War. As in all matters of luck, the past does not guarantee the future. Still, at least for the present, all I can do is respect and empathize with those whose parents, children and siblings have paid the ultimate price for Israeli independence. For better or worse, I cannot identify with them. My hope is that in a generation or two, my experience will become the rule, not the exception, in Israel and the entire Middle East.