The mitzvah of memory

Memorializing is a psychologically necessary step in the process of healing. Through our experience with all of Israel’s victims of terror, we have come to understand this clearly.

Sbarro Terror Attack 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Sbarro Terror Attack 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This week Israel’s Supreme Court dismissed a petition by Israel’s Terror Victims’ Association. The Israeli government plans to build a NIS 40 million memorial site, to be called the Hall of Names, in memory of all of the soldiers that have fallen in Israel’s lifelong battle for survival. The government of Israel decided that the names of Israel’s civilian victims of terror should not be included in that national memorial. The Terror Victims’ Association of Israel argued, in their petition to the court, that civilian terror victims should be included in the state-sponsored memorial. And for good reason.
Is it fair, they argue, for soldiers in uniform who were killed by a suicide bomber on a bus to have their names memorialized forever in the Hall of Names, while the civilians murdered on that same bus, in the seat right next to the soldiers, will have their names excluded? To be forgotten? The Defense Ministry and Yad Lebanim, (an organization for families of fallen soldiers), countered that the men and women who die in uniform should be commemorated differently from civilian terror victims, to preserve the symbolism of their deaths, as soldiers serving their country.
The court’s dismissal of the petition means that Israeli civilians killed by terrorists will not be included in the National Memorial, even though the commander of the IDF is on record saying that in Israel’s current and future wars, every citizen of Israel is now on the front lines, subject to the same missile attacks as every soldier.
At the same time, I can understand the position taken by the IDF. The overall image of military service as an honor and privilege, especially in a country with a national draft, is important to the morale of the soldiers who are serving, have served, have fallen, and to their families. That they have fallen in the service of their country and that a memorial should be dedicated to just that, is logical.
Here is where I have a very real problem: the government decided the commemoration of the two groups should be separate – but where is the NIS 40m. plan for the commemoration of the civilian victims of terror? Separate and different I understand. Yet innocent civilians that put their trust in their nation to protect them and that were killed by the same enemies our soldiers battle in our lifelong fight for survival should not be ignored or forgotten.
The Hall of Names is a meritorious project, but I would like the Israeli government to explain to me why the decision was not to divide the money in some way to create two important memorials in different locations, one for the more than 22,000 soldiers who have given their lives and one for the 3,000 civilians who have been killed by terrorists since the founding of the state.
Families that have lost loved ones in the process of a 65-year struggle for national survival all deserve dignity, respect, acknowledgement of the ultimate sacrifice that was made, and it is a mitzvah to keeping their loved one’s memories alive, regardless of whether they fell in uniform or not.
Just as it is our boys and girls, our children, husbands and fathers that have fallen in battle as soldiers, so too it is our family that has fallen as ordinary citizens, simply trying to go about their daily lives.
While making a decision that is understandable, there must be an acknowledgement of national responsibility by our government. The time has come for more than just declarations of separateness.
Victims of terror are different, but they are also equal.
I have yet to meet anyone in Israel that has not been personally touched in some way by terror. We are grieving nationally for our loss – and we should be. Their families, and the entire Jewish people as one family, deserve a place to visit, to educate and be educated, and to remember those that have fallen.
What we need for our civilian victims is something different than a military memorial; a center of education – and inspiration – to live, to celebrate life and to fight the dark with light. We need a location of healing and of memory that helps us learn and tell over the stories of all we have lost.
I envision a memorial that becomes a tribute to those whose lives were violently cut short and an international center for condemning and combatting terrorism. As the global jihad continues to stretch further and further beyond the scope of Israel, let us be a lesson to the world on how to remember while we move forward, with proper respect for those that have fallen along the way.
We owe them, and their loved ones, the mitzvah of memory.
A soldier’s death is different from a civilian’s death. But the response to evil must be the same; to celebrate life while memorializing those who are gone, by speaking for those they have silenced, and by perpetuating the memories and stories of those who can no longer do so for themselves.
Memorializing is a psychologically necessary step in the process of healing. Through our experience with all of Israel’s victims of terror, we have come to understand this clearly.
As an aspect of our aid to the bereaved we care for, OneFamily is offering to financially partner with the Government of Israel, to make this necessary memorial site a reality.
In this way the president, prime minister and Knesset can acknowledge to the rest of us that we are not just a state with a powerful and deeply cherished military, we are also the Jewish people, mourning, and living, together, as one family.
The writer is chairman of One-, the primary privately funded organization that rehabilitates, reintegrated and rebuilds the lives of Israel’s thousands of victims or terror.