Monday, April 23, 2007

Remembrance Day

The day before Independence Day (Yom Ha'aztzmaut) is Remembrance Day (Yom Hazikaron) for all the fallen in Israel's many wars and terrorist attacks. In the past year 233 Israelis have been killed, principally in the Second Lebanon War. According to the official count, since the first Jews moved outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1860, there have been 20,305 Jews killed here either in combat or terrorism.
This is a large number for a small country with now barely 6 million Jews. It would be equivalent to ca. 1,000,000 in the US, where the population is 50 times larger - perhaps if you add up all the casualties of the US including the War of Independence, the Civil War as well as WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, it is that many. Every country has its casualties, lost in defending its freedom, especially democracies.
In the Falkland Islands War of 1982, 25 years ago, Britain lost 258 men and Argentina nearly 1,000. Was it worth it? Who can ever say, but a principle was involved (Argentina invaded the "Malvinas"). And when Israelis go into Lebanon or elsewhere, it is not with bravado but with determination to do what has to be done. It is our survival as a people that is at stake.
Some of you will have heard of Joseph Trumpeldor, one of the few Jewish officers in the Tsarist army, who lost an arm fighting in WWI. He came to live in Eretz Yisrael and established one of the first Jewish guard units (Haganah) at the Jewish settlement of Tel Hai in the very northernmost tip of the Huleh Valley in Galilee. He was killed in 1919 in an Arab/Beduin attack, and his last recorded words were "it is good to die for one's country." It is on the basis of this kind of heroism that our young men and women go out and fight for our sovereign independence.
Unfortunately, there are more Israelis killed in traffic acccidents (now over 400 per year) than in any warfare situation in the same period.
In every town in Israel there is a Yad Lebanim (Memorial to the sons), and usually the Yom Hazikaron service takes place there. This evening for 2 hours I did guard duty at the annual Yom Hazikaron youth service in the main square in Netanya. There were about a thousand youth in different groups and about twice that number of audience. It was a very well behaved crowd. Luckily it was a boring duty with good security. They had a youth choir that sang nicely and they lit torches for each war, and the father of a soldier who died in the Lebanon war last year spoke. It was all very well done and well organized. If only we did not have to continue losing our young men and women in this senseless way.
Tomorrow (Monday) the day of Remembrance turns into the day of celebration for Independence, a typically Jewish combination, and we're going out with friends to enjoy the fireworks.


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