The fortnight or so following the end of Pessach (Passover) is not an easy time. Mirroring the seven-weeks between Pessach and Shavuot (Pentecost), two festivals which commemorate, respectively, the Exodus from Egypt and the Giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai (when a rabble of twelve tribes became one nation, with one God and one Law), this short period encompasses Holocaust Memorial Day, Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s wars and Independence Day.
Neither the proximity, nor the parallels, are coincidental.
On Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember the Six Million of our people who were murdered because we had no home, nowhere to run to when the forces of Darkness enveloped the world. But the Jewish people rose like a phoenix from the ashes of Europe, and, like the Israelite slaves freed from Egypt, set their faces eastward, to the Promised Land. Here, we became once more a nation, with our own country and our own laws. This is commemorated on Independence Day, which falls tomorrow and is preceded by Remembrance Day for the Fallen.
Both Holocaust Memorial Day and Remembrance Day for the Fallen are marked by solemn ceremonies, special programming on all the country’s TV and radio stations, and a minute’s silence marked by a siren. In fact, Remembrance Day has not one, but two sirens, one the evening before, marking the start of the official ceremony at the Western Wall, and one on the day itself, at 11 am, marking the start of the ceremony at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. I don’t know why there is this apparent “discrimination” between the two days of remembrance. Maybe it’s because there are, each year, fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors among us, whereas, alas, each year there are more and more bereaved families observing Remembrance Day for the Fallen. Personally, I feel the diminishing number of Holocaust survivors in our midst makes it all the more imperative that we, and future generations, keep the memory of the Holocaust – and its lessons – alive.
When Hitler first came to power, the world powers ignored his threats against the Jewish People. It was just bluster, they said. And in any case, those uppity Jews, who controlled the media, world finance, Hollywood, governments etc. needed taking down a peg or two. Hitler would just clip their wings a bit, and that would be the end of it.
We all know how that ended.
The ayatollahs of Iran have been threatening Israel with destruction since they came to power. And the world powers have dismissed those threats, just as they dismissed the threats of the Nazis. Hitler clearly spelled out his plans for the Jewish People but no-one wanted to hear what he was saying. So too the Iranians. But the world powers were all too eager to find an excuse to abolish the sanctions they had, most reluctantly, imposed on Iran – sanctions which were preventing them from concluding lucrative contracts with that country.
Now Iran is openly supporting the Butcher of Damascus, Syrian president Bashir Al-Assad, Iranian armed forces are on Israel’s very borders, and Iranian generals claim that “the date has been set for Israel’s destruction”.
I would be less than honest if I said I don’t feel the slightest twinge of alarm. But then I listen to the stories of the Fallen of Israel’s wars. Stories of heroes, like Major Roi Klein, who sacrificed his life by throwing himself on a live grenade to save his comrades. Who died with “Shema Yisrael“, the Jewish declaration of faith, on his lips.
Heroes like Staff Sergeant Nissim Sean Carmeli, killed by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, who could have chosen a safe, easy life in South Padre Island, Texas, where he was born, but chose, instead, to leave his family in the US and come to Israel, to serve as a “lone soldier”. Who could have avoided front-line service in Gaza because of an injury to his foot, but who insisted on serving with his unit.
Heroines like Hadas Malka, who was repeatedly stabbed by a terrorist in Jerusalem last year, but who continued to struggle to prevent him taking her gun. Who began her national service in the Navy and who could have remained there, but who insisted on transferring to a more dangerous posting in the Border Police, where she felt she could contribute more.
And I think of Natan Alterman’s poem, “The Silver Platter”.
And I remember the words of the Yizkor prayer recited at the memorial ceremony yesterday evening at the Western Wall: “May the People of Israel remember its sons and its daughters, the faithful and the brave, the soldiers of the Israel Defence Forces … may Israel remember and be blessed in its seed...”
In less than an hour, the sorrow of Remembrance Day will morph into the joy of Independence Day. The sudden switch must be agonising for bereaved families and has given rise, over the years, to proposals to separate the two occasions. Yet I see the logic in their proximity. We must never forget that without the sacrifice of these brave men and women, we have our own state. It has more than once been said that Remembrance Day is not so much for the bereaved families, for whom every day is “Remembrance Day”, as for all the rest of us, lest we forget, in our rejoicing, how much we owe to those who gave all they had, so that Israel could live and thrive.
Israel is, indeed, blessed in its seed.
Happy Independence Day.