A different sort of 'Fun Day'

Families of fallen heroes flock to the Luna Park for the same grim reason.

ari weiss 88 (photo credit: )
ari weiss 88
(photo credit: )
It was the first day of the Pessah vacation, a day dreaded by Jewish mothers throughout the land. This is the day every mother knows that the majority of her Pessah preparations had better be darn near complete, since the children are now home from school throughout the duration to "help." We have our goals to accomplish each day, interspersed with some fun rewards here and there to those who are successful. The countdown to Pessah begins. As we go through our morning routine, my 13-year-old daughter, Ayelet, is particularly excited today as she anticipates quality time with Mom, at the Luna Park in Tel Aviv. Bubbie, visiting from the States for the Pessah holiday, cannot for the life of her understand how I have nothing better to do today than go to an amusement park with my daughter. "Doesn't she have girlfriends she can go with?" I'm lectured. Fortunately, Ayelet has no girlfriends who can share this Fun Day with her at the Luna Park. Today is strictly for siblings of fallen soldiers, sponsored by the Israel Defense Forces, at no charge to the participants. The army wants to make sure that bereaved siblings growing up in the shadow of their fallen brothers and sisters are not neglected or pushed aside by eternally grieving parents. They are entitled to have some fun too, in spite of the tragedy that has touched their lives. So when our son Yedidya backed out of the day because of excessive homework, I couldn't let Ayelet go alone. So off to the Luna Park we went. AS WE entered the park we heard peals of laughter and screams of excitement coming from inside. We found our names on a neatly prepared list, as a bright-eyed young cadet matter-of-factly asked us, "Which unit?" My mind immediately jumped to Ari's beret ceremony, and I recalled photographing him from every angle as he wore that bright-green beret with such pride. "Nahal," I answered. We were directed to the appropriate sign-in table - ours was between the Golani unit and the Air Force - where we waited patiently for our turn. We were handed an envelope with what seemed like enough free food coupons to feed the entire IDF for a day, and were told to enjoy ourselves, but to be back at 3 p.m. for our gifts. So off we marched. As I was dragged from one stomach-churning ride to another, the scene before us was surreal. The place was packed with kids and families, as well as soldiers who work with bereaved families. The IDF marching band was winding its way around the park throughout the day while costumed dancers and entertainers spoiled the kids with prizes, balloons and candy. Children and adults from all segments of society - including several Druse families - had their hands full of cotton candy, stuffed animals and food, running madly from ride to ride, packing in as much as possible in this one magical day. MY HEAD was spinning with this scene of a typical day at the amusement park, yet I knew that each and every one of us was here for the same grim reason: Each of us will soon weep at our son's or brother's grave on Remembrance Day. Ari was our ticket for the day, and I hated it. Who were we all fooling? Even Ayelet saw through the facade as she commented, "Do they think this is going to make it better?" But our ketzinat nifga'im - our bereavement representative - from the army, on site, explained what we already knew. Nothing will make it better. Ever. But, "lefahot zeh" - this is the least we can do. Armed with new and expensive backpacks as gifts, we were ushered to the bandstand to "enjoy" the strains of Subliminal, an apparently well-known Israeli rapper, who performed songs about peace, an end to violence, and other things that I don't know how anyone understands the words to. (To my shock, Ayelet knew most of the lyrics!) I looked around at the crowd: Religious and secular, dark-skinned and light, rich and poor, veteran Israelis and those of us new to this land - all gathered so they could pretend, for just one day, that we haven't a care in the world. Today belongs to the children whom we are still blessed to be with. And the Israeli army is here today to remind us of that. I wonder, "Is there another army in the world that does something like this?" Taking the bus home, exhausted, loaded with souvenirs and still nauseous from all the "fun" rides, Ayelet thanks me for a wonderful day. I feel bad when the tears well up in my eyes as I tell her to rest on the bus ride home. She knows all too well that Fun Day is over - it's time to return to Life. Dear Friends: At a time when, unfortunately, we have so little to be proud of in our government officials and the image they project, take pride in those Fun Days at the Luna Park, and in the attention lavished upon the families of fallen heroes. And know that, as much as possible, we are being taken care of. Lefahot zeh - at least this. The writer, whose son Ari fell in battle in September 2002, is director of the Ochel Ari Food for Soldiers campaign.