by Sondra Oster Baras
May 2, 2017
As I write this newsletter I am sitting in front of the television, watching the ongoing documentaries about soldiers who fell in defense of their country, about victims of terror who were murdered because they were Jews living in the Land of Israel. Every year, on the day before Israel’s Independence Day, we remember the many sacrifices our country has made — the young men and women who put themselves in harm’s way and who were brave and strong as they protected us. We owe our lives to these people. We owe our freedom, our independence, the miracle of our existence, to these young people who loved their land and their people and who were killed in the prime of their life.
I don’t think there is another country in the world that sets its Memorial Day on the eve of its Independence Day. Incredible pain followed by incredible joy and celebration. How do we do it? How do we encompass such contrary emotions in the space of 24 hours?
There is a national ceremony that is televised nationally and then each community, town and city, holds its own ceremony. I debate each year whether to go out to the community ceremony or to stay home and watch the national one on TV. This year, I opted for TV. There is something about watching the President of the country addressing the families who have lost their loved ones and then hugging them and encouraging them personally, that enables me to connect to what this is all about on a much larger scale than my own community. And then after the ceremony, there are ongoing documentaries and interviews with families.
There was the couple, both 44 years old when their son was killed, who decided to have another child. Their lovely teen-age daughter shares her feelings, about her brother whom she never met and what it’s like to have been brought into this world to bring joy to her parents.
Then there was the Taharlev family, neighbors of my son Yehuda in the community of Talmon. Their son ElChai was murdered just a few weeks ago as he stood near the entrance of Ofra. His father is a prominent rabbi and his mother a school psychologist who has worked closely with my sister over the years. They opened their homes and their hearts to the nation, sharing their thoughts and feelings. They sat in their kitchen, having soup, serving their younger children sandwiches, as they allowed the cameras this intimate glimpse into their lives. And the father wonders out loud, how he can seek G-d in this situation and the mother comments on the complexity of it all. What amazing faith! What dignity and nobility.
And there are the parents of the young soldier in the intelligence corps that was murdered a few months ago in the terrorist attack in Jerusalem. She was with a group of soldiers on an educational seminar in Jerusalem, just as they were enjoying that amazing overlook at the Promenade. A Palestinian terrorist rammed his truck into dozens of soldiers just enjoying the view. And 23 year old Shir was murdered. My neighbor’s daughter was there and was thrown across the square by the truck. Unlike Shir, she was miraculously saved.
And I remember the many fallen that I knew over the years. Rena and Marc Robinson grew up in the US and we were in the same religious Zionist youth movement, Bnei Akiva. Rena and I went to summer camp together. They moved to Israel a few years before I did and live in a religious kibbutz in the north. In 2002, at the height of the Second Intifada, the IDF entered Jenin to clear out the terrorists that planned and executed so many terrorist attacks against Israel. They were ambushed and Matanya Robinson was killed.
Susie Weiss grew up in Cleveland and was a popular counselor in Bnei Akiva when I was a teenager. Their son Ari was killed in action in Shechem, also in 2002, as he patrolled the city looking for terrorists and protecting the neighboring communities.
Years earlier, in the first Lebanon War, Danny Haas was killed in one of the first battles of that war in 1982. Danny also grew up in Cleveland and I knew his whole family. His sister was our favorite babysitter and he was that amazingly cute guy in Bnei Akiva. He made aliyah by himself and joined the army before it became fashionable for American Jewish young people to do so. And he was killed in action.
And the television programs continue. The faces of parents, young and old, who share their grief and who paint a picture of their loved one — we see video clips of children’s birthdays, children who never reached their 24th birthday. We see photos of weddings when the groom is killed before his 1st wedding anniversary. We see gorgeous children who will never know their fathers. So much sadness. So much pain.
A father who lost his son is asked: “Does it help to be religious?” Yes,” he responds, “faith helps. I can’t give up my relationship with the Almighty. I can argue with Him. I can ask him why He took my son. Right after I got up from Shiva (the 7 day mourning period), I was walking to work and I stopped and turned to G-d — why couldn’t you take me? I asked. So yes, faith gives me someone to talk to, to question. And sometimes there are answers.”
Tonight and again tomorrow morning, the entire nation stands silent for 2 minutes as the sirens wail. And then tomorrow evening the joy and celebration begins. I know that some families can’t make the transition. Their loss continues to penetrate them all year long and especially as Memorial Day comes to a close. But for the rest of the nation, we make that transition. We sing songs of praise to G-d for the miracle of the rebirth of Israel and remember those who gave their lives so that we could live.
Sondra Oster Baras
Director, Israel Office