This article originally ran in 2015.
When someone dies we say, “May their memory be a blessing.” As of today’s count, may 23,320 memories be a blessing.
That is the number of Israelis who have been killed while protecting the State of Israel.
So many memories.
When I was in school (in Israel), Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Remembrance Day) was the day I noticed which students didn’t come to class. These were the students who lost a father (or a brother or another relative) in one of the wars while fighting to protect Israel. On every other day, these were the students I went to the Tzufim with, these were the students we all went to the beach with, these were the students I may not have even liked on a regular day. But on Yom Hazikaron, I stopped to think about these absent students, and spent some time thinking over what I knew about them and the memories they and their families had.
Every year, as we near Yom Hazikaron, I have the same argument with my husband. We have had it for so many years that we don’t even bother saying the words out loud any more, but we each know what the other is thinking.
Since you can’t read my mind, I will give you a synopsis of, what is usually, a very emotional debate. My husband doesn’t understand why I think those who don’t live in Israel should, or could be, so attached to Yom Hazikaron like we (the Israelis) are.
“They don’t live in Israel, they don’t know people who have been killed in Israel, they can’t feel like we do because they are so separated from what we know and what we have done.”
But here is the thing — our community is not separated from those we have lost while protecting our country. You may not be aware, but if you know an Israeli, there is a good chance you are separated by only two degrees from someone who was killed in battle. At the most, three degrees.
Yom Hazikaron is one of the most difficult days for Israelis because all the memories of 23,320 people suddenly come to life. We read the many stories of different people and suddenly we are attached. We listen to songs which tell stories of those who left a void and we tear up — even if we don’t know the person written and sung about. That person becomes someone we do know.
In Hebrew the fallen are called Challalei Tzahal (IDF). The word challal means “void” and these voids are the deepest on Yom Hazikaron. These voids cause us to reach out to each other and share stories, learn about more stories and do whatever we can to keep these memories alive as they are our past, our present and unfortunately, our future. Nothing is taken for granted and we don’t have the luxury of being separated by six degrees.
Over the summer we lost 67 soldiers — in less than two months. Some of those memories are deeply and directly connected to members of our own community — a community which, geographically, is so far away from Israel but, in its heart, right next door.
For this upcoming Yom Hazikaron, take a moment and ask an Israeli to share his or her feelings of Yom Hazikaron and ask if there is a story and a memory to share. You will be surprised at how close you will actually feel once you have a memory to own as well.
For this upcoming Yom Hazikaron, join one of the ceremonies which take place every year in both St. Paul and Minneapolis and hear personal reflections. Listen to songs which tell stories of our heroes and take a moment to embrace the 23,320 memories who will forever be a blessing.
Yom Hazikaron Commemoration Ceremonies will be held on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 7 p.m.
In Minneapolis: Beth El Synagogue – 5225 Barry St W, St Louis Park
In St. Paul: Temple of Aaron – 616 Mississippi River Blvd S, St Paul
Eilat Harel is the Director of the Israel Center of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation. Although Israeli (but born in Australia), she feels she has learned the most of what it means to be Jewish from the Minneapolis Jewish community to which she joined in 2000.
[The title of this post was updated from “Holiday” to “Day.”]