Soldiers lay flags on Graves on Remembrance Day 370.
All week long, I’ve been humming a song from my bar mitzva year – Red Rubber
Ball, written by Paul Simon and recorded for a monster hit by the Cyrkle – and I
can’t get the last verse out of my head:
The roller coaster ride we took is
nearly at an end.
I bought my ticket with my tears; that’s all I’m gonna
These last three weeks have been an emotional roller coaster,
bringing smiles to our faces as we soared to thrilling heights only to feel a
weight in the pits of our stomachs as we plummeted into the depths. The
“bookends” of this unique stretch of our calendar began with Passover and the
Seder night – those leaven- less days “of wine and matzot” as we celebrated our
entrance into peoplehood.
It ended yesterday, when we rejoiced, for the
64th time, our rebirth as a proud and independent nation in our own
But sandwiched in between these glorious events were intense
moments of sadness and solemnity. They began on the last day of Passover, when
we recited the Yizkor memorial prayer for our departed loved ones, whose seats
remain empty at our Seder table. We went on to Holocaust Remembrance Day a week
later and, seven days after that, Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s
I am caught somewhere in the middle of the Israeli experience; part
of the post- Holocaust, pre-IDF generation. I was born after the last death camp
had been liberated, but made aliya too late to personally experience army boot
camp. And so I live between two sirens: the one that sounds on Holocaust
Remembrance Day for my many relatives who perished in Poland, and for my
mother-in-law who spent her 16th birthday in Auschwitz; and the one that wails
on Remembrance Day in a cry of commemoration for our son who fell in battle 10
years ago as well as for all the heroic men and women of our holy armed
At some point, the two sirens seem to meld into one. I feel that
the same ill wind that blew over Europe, as the Germans emptied the continent of
Jews in a brash and brutal blitzkreig, is polluting our air once again. After
too few years of respite, the term “Jew” has returned to its status as the
ultimate curse-word. Anti-Semitism is rampant, whether poorly disguised as anti-
Zionism or unabashedly flaunted as pure, unadulterated Jew-hatred. Nazi symbols
desecrate graveyards worldwide. A Hitler wanna-be furiously seeks a weapon of
mass destruction to, God forbid, finish the job that Hitler started. And
surrounding Arab nations relentlessly demonize us with Nazi caricature and
classification, even as Palestinians – who openly and actively identified with
the Nazis during World War II – declare that all of redeemed “Palestine” must be
It is not a good feeling. One turns on the radio or TV
with trepidation. Who, after Egypt and Turkey, will be the next supposed “ally”
to put the knife in our back? Where, after Itamar and Toulouse, will the next
outrage be perpetrated against our innocents? I wake up at night sometimes with
the sensation that the noose is tightening around our necks.
But then I
remind myself that, despite all the signs of danger around us, there is a
pronounced and powerful difference between Then and Now.
IN THE years
before and during the Holocaust, we were powerless, defenseless. The world, as
Chaim Weizmann wryly noted, was divided between those countries in which they
would not let us live and those they would not let us enter. We waited for some
knight in shining armor to come and rescue us and he never appeared. He did not
bomb Auschwitz’s rail lines, he did not open the doors to our desperate citizens
seeking asylum. He did not raise a hue and cry in Congress or in church; he did
not join our ghetto fighters as we rose up courageously in Warsaw. No; no knight
in shining armor came to rescue us – instead, all too often, others came to
collaborate with our oppressors in our destruction.
But now we have an
army. And a navy.
And the best air force in the world. God has blessed us
with the finest soldiers ever to put on a uniform, and they are sworn to our
protection. They will not let us ever again be attacked with impunity. They have
been to the death camps and marched to Birkenau – with the flag of Israel
proudly wrapped around them – and they have seen the crematoria. They fully
understand what our enemies are capable of, and they are a wall of deterrence
surrounding us. They live on the front, but they have our backs. They are the
definition of everything good that derives from sovereignty, and the antidote to
all the deadly ills that flow from statelessness.
The sirens we sound are
a clarion call about danger and destiny. The two seem to travel together, but
their path is not always foreseen.
SHORTLY AFTER our son Ari was killed
in battle, there was a knock at our door. We opened the door to find a woman
standing there, crying. We had never seen her before and would never see her
again. She asked to come in, and when she finally composed herself, she
tearfully told us the following story: “I was born and raised in Israel,” she
said. “But when my son turned 16, my husband and I decided to leave. We feared
for our boy’s safety. We knew he would soon have to go into the army – he was
already telling us of his insistence on joining a combat unit – and we could not
bear the thought of him standing in harm’s way. So we packed up and we dragged
him away to California, far from the Middle East war zone.”
lowered her head and sobbed for a few minutes more until she mustered up the
strength to speak again.
“When he was 18, still pining away to serve in
the IDF with his high school friends, we bought him a car. We hoped that this
would lift his spirits and make him happy. he loved his car, like all kids would
in California. Three months ago, just after his 21st birthday – the same age as
your son – he was killed in a car accident.
I came here to tell you what
a fool I was for taking my child away from Israel.
If he was destined to
die young, he should have died in an IDF uniform, not in a car in California. He
should have been a hero, like your boy, and not just another
IN HIS important new book, Flags Over the Warsaw Ghetto,
former defense minister Moshe Arens tells the story of the Warsaw Ghetto
uprising, particularly the heroic, often overlooked role played by the Betar
fighters. Before the last battle against the Germans began at Muranowski Square,
Betar’s leader, Pawel Frenkel, addressed his youthful soldiers: “Fellow Jews,”
he said, “in all likelihood, we will die young. But we are not doomed; the world
will hear of us, and we will have our place in history.”
Would that the
Almighty allows all of our brave defenders to live to a ripe old age. But
whatever their fate, they are the surest guarantee that the State of Israel and
the people of Israel will have their rightful place in history.
writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana;