Comfort my people

While we lament the loss of thousands of promising lives, we have the right, indeed the duty, to see beyond grief and take stock of what they helped create.

April 15, 2013 05:43
3 minute read.
Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars

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 chums.

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 value.

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 legend.

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 Hebrew.

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 fallen.

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.

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