Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Memorial Day

The Walls of the Old City All Light Up
Yesterday was Israeli Memorial Day where we memorialize all 22,000+ soldiers, and other security personal who have fallen in their duty protecting this country. It is a very sad day in Israel beginning at sundown with a minute long siren heard across the country; with everyone stopping, and I mean everyone. I was on a bus when the siren sounded and the entire city just came to a stop. Nothing budged everyone on the bus stood up and the world looked like someone had pressed pause. Lights changed from green to red and back again but not one car moved; not one person crossed the street, not one step was taken. Then the siren wound down and slowly the city same back to life. Our bus pulled into the bus station and we got off. By this point every store is closed the station is nearly deserted and I dont stay there long my self.

I was rushing to try and get to the kotel (Western Wall) where the official government ceremony kicking off memorial day was happening. Along the way I had a string of run ins with friends, which only served to remind me how small this country can be at times. I unfortunately got to the kotel too late and missed the tekes (ceremony) for the most part.

Graves on Mt. Hertzel
The next morning I was up bright and early to head over Mt. Hertzel (The Military cemetery and memorial) to locate the grave I will be standing by for the ceremony. The IDF sends a soldier to the grave of every soldier who has ever fallen in the line of duty. This is done by Unit or Battalion with each unit sending soldiers to the graves of those who have fallen from their unit. I fought to and got the grave of Nachshon Waksman. He was a warrior in our unit back in 1994 when on the way home he was hitchhiking and 3 Arabs dressed as Hassisidm picked him up and kidnapped him. They put out demands that the terrorist mastermind Ahmed Yassin be released from Israeli jail long with 200 other terrorists, and Israel refused to deal with them. Instead a rescue operation was  mounted, but the mission did not go as planned and Nachson was killed along with the rescue teams commander and 10 other soldiers were wounded. I had the honor to stand by his grave along side his family, friends, and those who were in his team in the army. Its amazing to see how 17 years latter people still remember and care to come and remember him. One of the most moving parts is to see the love a mother showers upon the grave. Be it the absent minded brushing off of dust or simply to arrange the flowers several times, the grave really becomes her last connection to her son and its care her last place she can care for her son. (As a note Jews bury with a full body grave marker over the person, not just a headstone as seen above.) And then came 1100 and the siren went off for two minutes; the nation stood still, silent, and solemn.Even the fly sitting on the grave did not move.

After the siren the memorial ceremony commences and in addition to several prayers traditionally said for the dead as well as Kadish the Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, spoke. He opened up by saying the day is one that touches everyone in the country and he is right. There is scarcely an Israeli who does not have a relative, friend, or acquaintance who has not been killed or hurt in the line of duty or by a terror attack. Bibi himself lost a brother in Operation Entebe who is buried on Mt. Hertzel as well. When the ceremony came to an end the family asked me to go back to the house with them and I happily agreed. His family really is a special group of people. They have had to deal with such loss and pain yet they did not waver a bit in their love of either Israel or in their faith in god. His younger brothers did not shy away from combat and they too went on to serve in combat units and even to attend officers school. The whole story is really moving, and it was one of the greater honors in my life to be able to stand at his gave side on Yom Hazikraon (Remembrance Day).  

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