Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars 370.
(photo credit: Courtesy Lone Soldier Center)
One need not be Israeli to tremble as this heart-wrenching day’s siren ululates
from Mount Hermon to the Red Sea.
As the Jewish state salutes its fallen,
Israelis think of real people, ones they actually knew, often better than most
other acquaintances – children, parents, spouses, cousins, nephews and school
On this day Israelis solemnly join a widow as she recollects on TV
her lost husband’s plans; a father as he recalls his long-dead son’s childhood
pranks; an aging mother as she hugs a marble tombstone; and the military
cantor’s billowing plea to God, “Provide a solid peace under divinity’s wings to
the fallen of the battles of Israel.”
So palpable and pervasive is grief
on this day that visitors who spend it with us take its memory with them for the
rest of their days.
In the spirit of poet Natan Alterman’s lines, penned
in 1947, that the fallen are “the silver platter on which the Jewish nation was
given the Jewish state” – remembrance is for us rite, reflex and supreme
Yet while we lament the loss of thousands of promising lives, we
have all the right, indeed the duty, to see beyond grief and take stock of what
they helped create.
When Alterman wrote his lines there were fewer than a
million Jews here. Now, according to Sunday’s report by the Central Bureau of
Statistics, the number of Jews in Israel has crossed, for the first time, the
6-million threshold, while the entire population is for the first time greater
than 8 million.
Symbolism aside – the Jewish meaning of “6 million” needs
no elaboration – 8 million Israelis add up to a critical mass, a mid-sized
country whose economic performance and relative social cohesion are increasingly
envied, even in the West.
Back when the state was established, foreigners
who cared for it wondered how the minuscule state would survive while
under-populated, surrounded by enemies and lacking natural resources. Asking
such a question today is an anachronism. Israel’s economy has matured. Its
currency is solid, its growth rate has been for the better part of a decade
among the developed world’s highest, its unemployment and debt-to-GDP rates are
among the world’s lowest, and its inventiveness has become the subject of
In the past decade, despite its many doomsday prophets, Israel
has become home to the world’s largest Jewish community for the first time since
the Second Temple era, and is now well on its way to becoming home to a majority
of the Jewish people – for the first time not since the days of Jesus, but since
the days of Jeremiah.
Culturally, the Jewish state is a fountainhead of
creation and exploration, in anything and everything from literature, science
and industry to farming, theater and cinema. Hardly a century since visionary
Zionists restored the usage of Hebrew as a vernacular language, millions of
children grow up speaking nothing but Hebrew while the adults about them fly
airplanes, navigate ships, perform surgeries, build engines, write novels, poem
and plays and research biology, physics, botany, zoology and whatnot – all in
It is a cultural feat with no parallel in history, and it is
happening in a Jewish state where Jews prosper materially and defend themselves
militarily. None of this would have happened but for the sacrifices of the
In 1967, then-chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin arrived at the Western
Wall moments after its liberation. Surrounded by the exhausted troops, he said
as the entire nation listened: “Our comrades’ sacrifices were not in vain;
generations of Jews who were killed, slaughtered and fell sanctifying God’s name
– are now telling you: ‘Comfort, comfort my people’” (Isaiah 40:1) So are we.