These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Reflections on my First Yom HaZikaron in Israel

Posted on April 29, 2015 by Jacob Haas

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Yom HaZikaron – what a sad day.

I had expectations and anxieties around Yom HaZikaron and I was actually quite relieved that my main feeling from the day was simply sadness. I was anxious that I would feel anger. Anger about the nearly constant state of war Israel is in. Anger about glorifying war. About the current political leadership of Israel. About vilification of the ‘enemy.’ About religious justification for war. But thankfully, I was just left with sadness.

There were two moments in my day that truly highlighted this feeling best.

The first – a memorial ceremony that I attended at a local high school. The ceremony was in Hebrew, which I know very little of. At first I thought this would be frustrating, but I actually found it to be a relief. It allowed me to turn off my analytical brain and allowed me be in the moment and focus on my feelings. A guided meditation of sorts.

The ceremony was led by high school students. They read poems, told stories, played music, danced and cried. It really hit me how many lives have been drastically changed by the suffering that war brings on. In the entrance to the school there was a memorial for about twenty individuals who had lost their lives as a result of war. These were former students and family members of current students. During the ceremony many students broke down in tears. So often we can get wrapped up in the ‘why’ of war, but at this moment, it was all about the sadness and tears.

The second moment of sadness came to me in the Beit Midrash, as Eli Sharon, told his personal story of being a soldier in the Yom Kippur war. He retold his story beautifully. He focused on the details of his experience and his feelings. In a single attack in Egypt, he lost many soldiers and was on the brink of death himself. He survived by a miraculous rescue effort and medical interventions, in the nick of time. As a result he had over 20 surgeries and still suffers physically. Not to mention the emotional trauma he endures to this day. And the whole time he was telling his story; he never focused on the ‘why.’ That’s not important on this day. Does it really matter why Israel was at war? Does it really matter why his tank was attacked? Yom HaZikaron is a day to really open to the reality of the sadness and pain that war creates, both during and after.

So my take-away from my first Yom HaZikaron in Israel is the importance of not asking the questions of why, but rather asking the questions of whom. Who experiences the pain of war? Who has endured war’s tragedies? Who is affected by war? Who has died? Who is suffering?