IDF soldiers at the Yom Hazikaron ceremony at the Kotel
by Judy Lash Balint
April 22, 2007
It's eerie how often the elements reflect events occurring here in Israel. At last week's Yom Hashoah commemoration at Yad Vashem, participants huddled
together in the chill of the Jerusalem evening as the ceremony marking the systematic murder of six million European Jews unfolded. The youthful members of the choir were shivering in the frigid air. Six survivors delegated to light the memorial torches stood stoically at attention as a cold wind blew across the hilltop.
But just one week later, as the State of Israel pauses to remember her fallen soldiers, the ritual takes place as a soft, warm, almost comforting breeze envelops hundreds of bereaved families gathered in the plaza facing the Kotel.
The flag at half mast barely flutters in the gentle wind flurries, and the memorial flame remains virtually immobile in front of the subdued crowd.
Those commemorated on Yom Hazikaron are not the mass victims of yesteryear's death camps, they're our youth who died and continue to die, defending the state and its citizens. We need the warmth and gentleness to reassure us, to enable us to look to the future.
It's slightly disconcerting to see the Kotel bereft of worshipers, replaced by rows and rows of men and women with sadness in their eyes. A significant number of the men choose not to wear any head covering--I can't help wondering if it's an indictment of
God or an expression of secularism that has nothing to do with their loss. Apart from the ultra-orthodox who generally do not serve in the army, the full spectrum of Israeli society is represented at the service--national religious and secular; Ashkenazi and Sephardi; rich and poor; old and young. Bereavement itself is a social strata here --according to the Defense Ministry 23,305 soldiers have died in the fifty nine years of statehood leaving thousands of families to join the ranks of the bereaved.
This year, thanks in large part to last summer's Hizbollah war, another 233 names have been added to those we mourn.
As the siren sounds marking the beginning of the ceremony, I notice a young child next to me dropping her head along with the formal honor guard who face us across the plaza. Sadly, the culture of grieving and remembering is ingrained at an early age here in Israel.
At the end of the formal program, acting President Dalia Itzik, Chief of Staff Gabi Askenazi and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski pass among the families offering brief words of comfort. The gesture reinforces a remark made by Itzik during her address to the gathering--that each loss is a national loss, felt keenly by the entire country.
As we wait to leave at the close of the 30 minute ceremony, I fall into conversation with the young couple sitting next to me. The wife is the sister of Oded Bachrach, a soldier murdered in 1996 while on a hike in Wadi Kelt. Michal, 33, tells me she finds it difficult to attend the Memorial Day observance. "There were a few years when I actually got ready to go, but just couldn't make myself get here," she says with tears in her eyes. Her parents have never come to the Kotel ceremony. They find it easier to sponsor a Torah lecture in Oded's memory in their community of Beit El.
What upsets Michal most is the fate of her younger brother's murderer. Captured by officers of the Palestine Authority in Jericho, the terrorist spent just one month in jail before being released in Yasser Arafat's notorious revolving door policy. Today, Israel is considering releasing 1,400 Arab security prisoners in return for the safe return home of captured IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit.
As we walk together out of the Old City through Dung Gate, the warm breeze evaporates into the night, leaving a chill wind in its place.