Remembrance Day: 'All that I have left of you is a photo on a wall'

"Remembrance Day is a time when everyone grieves together. I remember him all year, but once a year for one day, everyone remembers him together with me."

The annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the Kfar Etzion cemetery in Gush Etzion (photo credit: GUSH ETZION REGIONAL COUNCIL)
The annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the Kfar Etzion cemetery in Gush Etzion
(photo credit: GUSH ETZION REGIONAL COUNCIL)
Ahinoam Orbach has only photographs and a set of poems by which to remember her older brother, Erez, who was 20 when he was killed with three other soldiers in a Jerusalem terror attack in September 2017.
“At age 13 I lost my older brother,” recalled Ahinoam on Wednesday as she eulogized him at the annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the Kfar Etzion cemetery in Gush Etzion, not far from the family’s home in Alon Shvut.
“The last time I saw him, he sat on the living room sofa engaged in conversation with someone,” she said. “He left before I could say ‘see you later’ and since then all that has remained are poems and longing. The longing is powerful; it always sits together with the memories on my heart. My longing for him has never disappeared – it has just changed. And with time I have learned things about him that I never knew.
“He was a writer,” said Ahinoam in describing her brother, who had dual Israeli-US citizenship. As she spoke she stood on a small stone ledge above the cemetery and looked out at the crowd gathered in front of her under a blue plastic awning.
Ahinoam, now a senior in high school, told the crowd that shortly before her brother’s death on the promenade in Jerusalem’s Armon HaNaziv neighborhood, she had also begun to write.
“Since then, every time I long for him I sit and write,” she said. “Sometimes I write about him. Sometimes to him, but sometimes I write just to release my thoughts. In the end I write because it connects me to him.
“I feel that through my words I connect to a person that I almost don’t remember but who I always continue to long for,” said the high school senior. 
Wearing a gray sweater with a few wisps of short brown hair falling around her eyes, Ahinoam attempted to put into words the complex emotions of a bereaved family where memory plays both a painful and positive role.
“It is hard to simultaneously forget and grieve,” Ahinoam said. “Remembrance Day is a time when everyone grieves together. I remember him all year, but once a year for one day, everyone remembers him together with me.”
She recalled how a year after Erez’s death, the family published a book of his poems, one of which took on a new painful meaning once he was gone. In the poem, Erez imagined what it would be like to be a photo hanging on a wall rather than a living and breathing person.
Ahinoam read some of Erez’s words: “Now I am a photo on a wall; once I was someone who you knew, somewhat tired and somewhat strange.”
Addressing him, Ahinoam said: “Erez, now you are a photo on the wall, but once you were someone who I knew – always smiling, always beloved. It’s a shame that all that remains of you is a photo on the wall.”