It’s such a complicated country we live in.
Today is Mother’s Day, and as I was wishing all of the moms in my life a beautiful day through Facebook and on the phone, I could hear music of mourning in the background in my own home.
See, it’s Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) here which is simply one of the saddest days of the year. It’s the day, each year, when we tear off the feebly placed band-aid and re-expose our moms (and dads and brothers and sisters and grandparents and children) to the unspeakable loss that they have endured simply by wanting to live and grow here.
And so I sat, wishing my mom a wonderful Mother’s Day, while my big boys sat in the next room listening to story after story after story on the news of mothers losing their children.
Yesterday, I sat on a panel with two other working women. Together, we were asked to speak before 70 or so American girls who are here learning for a year. They had gathered in Neve Daniel for a Shabbat that was intended to focus on Aliyah and to encourage them to stay past their year of learning (or to come back at some point later).
One girl asked the question, “How do you deal with living here when you know your children are going to have to be in the army, and that they may die?”
I gave an impassioned answer about our duties, about defending our country, and about the privilege of serving in an army that didn’t even exist in our grandparents’ generation. I explained, as I did at Yakir’s brit six months ago, that my grandfather, while serving in the American army and fighting against the Nazis in WWII, couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams that his great-grandchildren would some day serve in a Jewish army.
And then the psychiatrist next to me said what I really wanted to say, and what we often think but don’t say to people outside of Israel. She said that, years ago, sitting safely in America, she came to the conclusion that she doesn’t love HER children more than any woman in Israel. To say that you can’t come to Israel because you can’t bear the idea of sending your kids to the army implies that the women here bear it better, and, therefore, love their children less. They don’t love their children as much, and they simply learn to live with the pain of sending them, and potentially losing them.
And my friend realized that this simply wasn’t true. Why, she explained, should the women of Israel be willing to make a sacrifice with THEIR children, whom they love just as much? Why should they be holding up the country that we value and love so much; while we were sitting in America, unwilling to send ours?
She certainly gave the girls something to think about, as she echoed sentiments that I’ve tried to express for years.
And then tonight, when Yom HaZikaron started, the siren wailed. It was 8:00 pm and we had explained to the boys that the siren was coming and that they would need to be still, standing and quiet. I stood in the kitchen as the piercing sounds echoed through our home, and I watched Yakir play in his bouncy seat.
What a strange juxtaposition to watch my beautiful 6 month old baby playing and giggling, knowing that he will someday be one of these soldiers serving the country…and knowing that so many mothers tonight are mourning for that baby who grew up to serve, but not to survive.
Then, Josh put the television on the computer so that the kids could watch the national program that starts Yom HaZikaron at the Kotel (the Western Wall). We watched the solemn ceremony, which ended with Hatikva, and then we started watching the evening program. With extremely sad music in the background, the program showed interviews with family after family after family that had lost someone in the line of duty. These shows will continue around the clock until tomorrow night, when the sadness of Yom HaZikaron transforms into the joy and sheer excitement of Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day).
I sat in the background, trying to get some work done, and wondering whether this was the right thing to show the kids. Here were my boys, ages 9 and 3-days-from-11, listening to stories about soldiers who have died. When you’re going to be a soldier someday, how do you sit and listen to those stories? What does this information do to your young psyche?
But this, in the end, is also part of our lives. And so, we begin Yom HaZikaron, hoping as I do every single year with passionate prayer that I should never feel the pain of this day personally.
But understanding and deeply appreciating, as well, the sacrifices that so many have had to make so that we may be here as free, practicing Jews in our homeland.