IDF soldiers participate in an official Remembrance Day ceremony at the Western Wall, April 17, 2018.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
“And I walk, passing here silently,
And I remember them, one by one.
Here we fought together on cliffs and
Here we were one family.”
-"Bab el Wad" by Haim Gouri
This was the sentiment sung by IDF soldiers on top of Mt. Herzl. Now in Israel for a year on a Masa program, and getting ready for both Masa’s Yom Hazikaron ceremony at Latrun, and Tel Aviv University’s ceremony, I recall the song I learned my first time in Israel.
That was nearly two years ago – I was on Birthright, where they took us to the section of the military cemetery where young American men who had made aliyah to join the IDF, and fell in battle, were buried. The Israelis sang songs, unaccompanied, from Yom Hazikaron.
Clearly they were quite familiar with the tradition. But this was the first time I heard of the day for remembering fallen soldiers and I was confused as to why we were taken to Mt. Herzl and why we were singing these songs. I was wondering: How does this relate to me?
We have a Memorial Day in the United States as well, but it never meant more than just a day off. Even soldiers in the US military use it as a day to barbecue outside with the family. I had never heard of any kind of traditions or songs like one finds in Israel.
It wasn’t until now, returning to Israel on a Masa program, that I realized in hindsight why the songs are sung on Taglit. Yom Hazikaron is essential to understanding the Jewish state and its people.
Compared to the relative safety most Americans feel on their land, Israelis feel the need to have soldiers protecting the land. Everyone knows a soldier. Everyone has a soldier in their family. All hands are on deck in this tiny country, because Israel has no choice but to defend itself if it wants to survive. Every soldier that falls dies in the name of the land that Zionists have worked hard to call home. This fosters a sense of solidarity with fallen soldiers that is eloquently illustrated in the song I learned. There is a sense of unity that is special but bittersweet - I am sure people would give it up if it could mean no more war.
On Yom Hazikaron this year, you can find me at a ceremony in Israel, singing alongside my Israeli friends.
Miranda is currently a Master’s student in Public Policy at Tel Aviv University, through Masa.
Masa Israel Journey is the leader in immersive international career development and leadership experiences in Israel for young adults ages 18-30. Masa’s subsidized study, internship, volunteer and gap year programs allow participants to embark on unique journeys that enrich their personal and professional growth as they forge long-lasting connections with Israelis and a global network of peers. Masa is a cooperation between The Jewish Agency and the Government of Israel, made possible by the generous contributions of The Jewish Federations of North America, Keren Hayesod - UIA and other donors worldwide.