As I’ve elaborated in the past, the two national days of solemn remembrance in Israel are one week apart; Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day (officially called, in rough translation, “the Day of Remembrance for Those Slain in the Wars of Israel and the Victims of Acts of Terror”). As a recent olah (immigrant to Israel), I noticed that my fellow students and teachers seemed to feel a lot more strongly about Memorial Day, and I found that odd. The Holocaust was, objectively, a far more tragic event. How can you even compare the image of millions of Jews–men, women, and children–being herded into gas chambers and gunned down over mass graves, with the image of Jewish soldiers on the battlefield, dying while fighting for their country?
Of course, over the years, the reason Israelis connect more to Memorial Day became very, very clear to me.
During the evening memorial siren last night, there were two names, two images, I couldn’t get out of my head: Dafna Meir, and Naama Henkin. Both of them were killed in the recent wave of terror, and I believe I mentioned both of them in previous letters. Both were religious mothers of small children like I am.
We tend to identify most strongly with tragedies we have some kind of personal connection to. More than just having friends or acquaintances in common, that connection could be in identity (they were Jewish; women; similar lifestyle to mine), or geography (they both lived relatively close to here), or in time (they were killed recently, and the memory is very fresh). Remember how I mentioned that when teaching small children about the Holocaust, we are supposed to emphasize for them that the Holocaust happened a very long time ago and very far away? That gives them a sense of security.
Israel’s wars, however, are not a thing of the past. They cannot be placed far away over space and time. We don’t need to promise to remember. We are painfully reminded, every single day. Just yesterday morning two little old ladies were stabbed while taking a stroll along the promenade at Armon HaNatziv in Jerusalem. My children have clear memories of taking cover during the air raid sirens two years ago, and of the lockdown in our town a few months ago when a terrorist was on the loose. And the border with Gaza has been heating up again, as befits the two-year cycle of Operation-Protective-Pillar-of-Cast-Lead-Whatever-the-Hell-They’re-Calling-the-Ongoing-War-with-Hamas-These-Days.
I attended elementary school in the post-Oslo lull of the late 90’s, when things felt pretty safe. But even then–I had classmates with uncles and cousins who were killed in wars and terror attacks. The Holocaust was an unfathomable calamity, but it only directly affected European Jewry. More than half of Israelis are not even of European origin. The majority of my classmates were of Middle Eastern or North African descent.
Memorial Day is so much more intense because it is not commemorating a thing of the past. On Holocaust Memorial Day, we honor an unfathomable six million Jewish victims. On Memorial Day, the number of slain that we honor is much smaller, but it grows every year. This year it stands at 23,447. That’s 68 more than last year.
When I was thinking about what I might like to write about for “Israeli Emotional Roller Coaster Week,” I thought about sharing some of the music that is an integral part of Israeli culture around this time of year. On Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day, the radio stations all play soft, sad music, mostly nostalgic Hebrew songs from the 60’s and 70’s about war, loss, peace, and patriotism. I learned a few of them in school in the USA before making aliyah, but when I moved here I realized it was a whole genre, enough to fill entire radio stations for 24 hours.
I could probably write an entire book about Israeli war music, and it was very hard to decide which to write about. But when I decided to focus on one, I knew it had to be this one.
Here is my translation of the lyrics, written by Ehud Manor in memory of his brother, who was killed during the War of Attrition.
I have no other land
Even if that land is burning
Only one word in Hebrew
Penetrates my veins,
Into my soul
With an aching body
With a hungry heart
This is my home
I will not be silent,
For my land has changed her face
I won’t let go, I’ll remind her
And I’ll whisper to her, in her ears,
Until she opens her eyes
The melody was written by Corinne Alel, who performs this version. There is something so chilling and poignant about the a capella opening in her gritty, soulful voice.
The song captures something that I think is at the very core of our current conflict with the Palestinians.
The Palestinian narrative is that we, the Jewish Israelis, are colonialists. Europeans who came from foreign lands to impose sovereignty on the local population, just like the French in Algeria, or the British and Dutch in South Africa. And the way the local population dealt with the colonialists then, was to make living conditions so miserable for them, that they would be scared back to their homelands. That is the goal of Palestinian terrorism.
What they don’t understand is that we have nowhere to go back to.
We have no other land.
Even if that land is burning.
And we are not foreigners. We are indigenous to this land. We have an ancient story about every hill, every valley, every rock. We have been saying “Next year in Jerusalem!” for two thousand years.
This is our home.
The juxtaposition of Memorial Day to Israeli Independence Day further underscores our connection to that truth. We know how much we have sacrificed to stay here. And that fact only makes us more determined than ever to stay and to celebrate the miracle of our return to our historic homeland.
In the Rinat Israel prayer book, it states that we greet one another on Independence Day with the following blessing: “Mo’adim l’simcha, l’ge’ulah shleima”–“happy holidays, to full redemption!”
May we all experience full redemption–a lasting, prosperous peace–in our lifetime.