It’s more than four weeks that separate this year’s Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen) and Memorial Day here in these United States…much more.
Memorial Day honors fallen soldiers; Yom HaZikaron honors fallen soldiers as well as civilians who died at the hand of the enemy. As far as Israel’s enemies are concerned, every Israeli is fair game. Israel’s enemies do not differentiate. For them, it makes no difference whether their target is a 19 month old toddler, a 19 year old combat soldier or a 91 year old great-grandmother. The enemy racks up the same “mitzvah points.” As far as the enemy is concerned, an Israeli and a Jew are synonymous. That’s why the enemy’s cri de guerre is Itbach al Yahud (slaughter the Jew)! Because the enemy does not discriminate when it comes to mayhem and murder, Israelis do not discriminate when it comes to memorializing and mourning. The same tears are shed from the same broken hearts.
For much of its history, the United States saw itself as secure. Time was that Canadians could travel into the United States with no documentation whatsoever. The same held true for Americans traveling up to Canada. Our self-image was exemplary. Our “can do” made us the envy of the rest of the world. As Americans, we had every good reason to boast: “From Sea to shining Sea.”
Unlike the United States, Israel has a size complex… justifiably so. In addition to realizing that it is the small kid in the neighborhood, dwarfed size-wise by surrounding hostile countries, Israel is well aware that its airspace along with its soil cannot withstand any battles with the enemy. Israel has no choice, but to “take it outside” and defend itself on foreign soil as well as over enemy airspace. That’s under optimum conditions. Israel unfortunately, does not have impervious borders, so that every so often, a terrorist manages to make his or her way into Israel proper and carry out carnage. Israel also has a sizeable Arab population. And in that population, there are those who are preyed upon by Hezbollah, Hamas et al and are recruited and trained to destroy and to disfigure Jews. Each and every Yom HaZikaron, Israelis bring to mind and take to heart, victims of terror whose soul crime was being Jewish and being in Israel.
Memorial Day is personal. Except for dignified ceremonies held at cemeteries by War Veterans, and in our case Jewish War Veterans, the remembering and the mourning is left to family and friends. Come Memorial Day, the vast majority of Americans are drawn to shopping malls, travel (the long weekend that signifies the beginning of summer independent of June 21 being summer solstice) and picnics. For most, Memorial Day is time to Celebrate.
Yom HaZikaron is also personal. Israelis take Yom HaZikaron very personally and for good reason. Close to three and a half millennia ago, as our ancestors prepared for the exodus from Egypt, we were told “Ein Bayit asher ein sham meit” (Exodus 12:30: there was no house devoid of dead). That quote has been ringing ominously true in Israel for the last 69 years. This explains why Israelis throughout the country stop dead in their tracks (they pull to the side of the road in their cars) and stand for two minutes of silence as sirens blare as they pay tribute to those – both military and civilian whose lives were snuffed out because the enemy will stop at nothing to make life miserable for Israelis.
Political grousing aside, the vast majority of Americans will hopefully agree that for us fortunate enough to be part of the United States, it’s a beautiful life – thanks in no small part to those who gave their lives in the past, so that future generations could live in a country that is still very much looked up to and admired by so many throughout this world.