Remember the fallen and what they died for

Memorial Day in Israel is a day of reflection and thought, a day in which life stops in order for us to look around and remember.

IDF memorial in Latrun311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF memorial in Latrun311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I recently read an article about a group of rabbinical students from Boston Hebrew College who are proposing that at their school, the commemoration of Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism be broadened “to open up our communal remembrance to include losses on all sides of the conflict in Israel/Palestine.”
As I read it, I was filled with trembling and chills.
First of all, I need to clarify: I do not live in Boston, but in the State of Israel.
The enemies that surround us in Israel are continually disputing my historic right to be here – a right that I owe to all those who fought against these same enemies in Israel’s wars, and who with their deaths granted me that right. In the words of the poet Natan Alterman, the Israeli fighters are “the silver platter” on which the State of Israel was “served” to its people. I owe my ability to live in Israel to my late husband, Major Ra’anan Shoham, killed in June 1982, during the First Lebanon War. I owe it to Ra’anan, and to all the thousands of other soldiers who left behind more than 8,000 widows and orphans, whom I represent today with a deep sense of honor and awe, as chairwoman of the organization for the widows and orphans of the IDF.
Memorial Day in Israel is a day of reflection and thought, a day in which life stops in order for us to look around and remember all those who had no other choice and, motivated only by the desire to defend and not by hatred, enabled our present existence. On Memorial Day, we also painfully understand that our situation is not to be taken for granted, and that our enemies continue in their attempt to challenge the existence of the democratic Jewish state.
MEMORIAL DAY is observed immediately before Independence Day, with the intention of reminding us all that we owe our renewed independence to the tremendous sacrifice of our soldiers, most of whom were Jewish, and who died defending our right to live in peace, to raise children, and build a future.
Memorial Day is a day of unity, a day in which Jews around the world set aside their differences and together remember those that sacrificed their lives for our security. It is a day on which we, the bereaved families, draw strength from that unity and from the identification of others with our pain. We have obligated ourselves to make sure that this day remains one in which political differences do not divide us, and we must not breach that obligation.
The Jewish people are the support of the State of Israel, just as Israel, by its very existence, is the backbone of the Jewish people. I recently led a group of IDF widows on a visit to France, and there I had the fortune, once again, to experience the direct connection between Jewish people in the Diaspora and in Israel – without having known one another at all before we left Israel. The heart that beats is one heart, and that is the source of our strength.
In light of all of the above, it is clear why I was so deeply shocked by the suggestion of a group of Jews that on Memorial Day we remember not only Ra’anan, who died defending the State of Israel, but also Israel’s enemies – cruel terrorists who acted with the intent of harming Jews, without differentiating between soldiers, women and children – in order to destroy the Jewish state. Any person with the ability to think knows how to differentiate between a soldier sent to defend his people and a terrorist on a mission to intentionally harm innocent citizens – between someone who fights in the hope that the day will come when the Arab-Israeli conflict ends , and someone who refuses to recognize the existence of the Jewish state in the Land of Israel, even if a Palestinian state will also be established. The first sanctifies life, while the second sanctifies death.
IS IT possible that such a deep lack of understanding can exist in our midst while our state is still struggling for its existence? Certainly, there are political arguments regarding the right way to establish our existence in the Middle East, and “to attain peace,” among many other important topics, all of which are deserving of broad discussion – both within the Jewish state and among the Jewish people.
But at the same time, it seems that observing the Memorial Day of the Jews who were killed defending their people from slaughter, together with the commemoration of those who, with knives in their hands, carried out that slaughter – is a sin against truth and morality, and reflects a profound misperception.
I am sure the intention of those behind the initiative is a good one. Perhaps from the warm, secure place in which they live, they are unable to see the complex reality in which we live. I ask them to continue hoping for peace between Jews and Palestinians – we all want that. But I also ask them to remember that their strength as Jews in the Diaspora comes from our strength, and that our strength depends on their support.
I will close with a saying my mother taught me, and which has remained with me throughout my life: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
The writer is chairwoman of the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization in Israel, dedicated to sponsoring extensive social activities, providing emotional support, and advancing the rights of IDF widows and orphans in Israel.