April 30th marks the eve of Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism. Having made aliya at the age of 14, I remember my first Yom Hazikaron in Israel, because I penned a letter (yes, email existed at the time, but there was still the thrill of snail mail) to a friend back in New York. As I described the two sirens, the ceremonies and the solemnness of the day, I looked at my mom to translate “Yom Hazikaron.”
“It’s ‘Memorial Day’,” she said. But that didn’t compute. Having grown up in New York, Memorial Day marked the start of summer with a three-day weekend, barbecues, pool parties and sales. Growing up, it had never registered that it was a day of grief and honor for the fallen soldiers. As a teenager in New York, I never knew anyone who served in the US forces.
Things are different in Israel. Here, everyone knows someone who fell, either serving the country or as a victim of terrorism.
Most municipalities in Israel have a wall of remembrance. There is a beautiful wall at the Technion (the Israel Institute of Technology) for students and staff who have fallen. The thing that stands out about all of these walls is that, regardless of when they were originally put up, they all have empty space for more names. Throughout Israel’s history, it has always been obvious that we will need to keep fighting for our right to be here and withstand terrorism from people who don’t want us on this land.
My parents wanted to move to Israel for years before we actually did. I didn’t like the prospect of leaving the only home I knew, but my biggest fear was having to serve in the army. Things were different then—and there was a feeling of hope as Bill Clinton led the Oslo Accord between Rabin and Arafat. My parents reassured me that by the time I reached 18, service in the IDF would no longer be mandatory.
Needless to say, I served in the IDF.
As I grow older, the names on the walls who were once brave soldiers, older than me, retain their youth as they remain in eternal slumber. In age, I’ve surpassed many of them, who now look to me like children.
As Yom Hazikaron draws near, I look at my newborn baby girl and I know I cannot make that same promise to her. When she reaches 18, she’ll be asked to step up and serve her country. Women are no longer confined to secretarial jobs. Thanks to the women pioneers before her, she can even serve as a combat soldier or a pilot. I hold my daughter tight, knowing I won’t be able to protect her throughout her entire life. She’ll grow up and face the realities of living in Israel. I can only hope that as she grows, the number of fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism doesn’t continue to grow so much from year to year.
The empty spaces on the walls are nowhere as harrowing as the gapping void left by each new name that is added.