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  • Writer's pictureJosh Scharff

Yom HaZikaron

In just about an hour, Israelis around the nation will rise and stand at attention as they hear the minute-long blast of the siren marking the beginning of Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day for soldiers killed in the line of duty and civilians murdered in acts of terror. This day is always one of the most solemn in the Israeli calendar, very different from the memorial day that I experienced in the United States as a child. Nearly every single Israeli family has been personally affected by Israel’s wars, has lost a loved one from their core family. Those who haven’t lost a classmate that sat next to them in seventh grade, someone they served with, someone with whom they spent time with on a trip abroad. 

This year, Yom HaZikaron will, somehow, be even sadder and more tragic than in years past. Since Israel’s establishment, 4,070 civilians have been killed in acts of terror. 834 names have been added to this list since last memorial day - victims of the Nova music festival, residents of the kibbutzim, moshavim and cities located on the Gaza border who were massacred in their homes. One fifth of those more than 4,070 souls were taken in only the past year. 765 soldiers were killed in the line of duty, and that number, horrifically, seems only likely to grow. 

I struggled all day with the question of if I should write something? And when I decided that I should, I found the question of what to write even more baffling? How can I possibly speak to the pain, the sorrow, that this year feels as though it fills every single part of my heart, my soul, and my spirit. 

In times like these, I seek comfort. Yes, I am angry. No, I am furious: at the terrorist organizations and states who cannot accept a Jewish state in their midst, at the individuals who have chosen this moment to unleash a wave of furious Jew hatred all around the globe that we have not seen in decades. But today is not about them. Today is about us. It is about our pain. It is about our loss. And to soothe that I sought words of comfort. 

I found them in a midrash written by Rabbi Tali Adler, an educator at the Hadar Institute. She wrote these words in response to the Torah portions we have read in the past weeks. Specifically she speaks about the first Yom Kippur, when God and Aaron meet for the first time at the zenith of the most holy day in Judaism not long after God has so cruelly taken Aaron’s two sons from him. Rabbi Adler writes: 

“We don't know what Aharon and God said when they were together in the Holy of Holies that first Yom Kippur, gazing at each other through a cloud of incense and the haze of sin, sorrow, and loss.

We don't know, but I imagine Aharon started with: "The calf--"

And maybe at the same time God said: "Your boys--"

Perhaps Aharon was silent, or maybe he finally cried the tears he never did on that day. 

And maybe one or the other, after a long pause, said only: "They were beautiful."”

When I see the faces of all those taken from us in the last year, the faces of the young stand out. They are all, or they were, just so beautiful. Their families and friends, so cruelly and abruptly robbed of all the beauty that these souls brought to their lives and all the beauty that they would never be able to create. Our tradition teaches us that each life is an entire world. Thousands of parents, siblings, partners, and friends have had an entire world taken from them. They were all so beautiful. 

In the midst of our own personal and national grief, we would be remiss to forget that we are not the only nation that is bleeding and broken. While we are caught up in a just struggle for our survival and a safer future for all Israeli citizens, Arab and Jew alike - the price of war, of violence, is paid with human lives. There is so much pain in such a small piece of land. 

Today, we mourn and we remember. We remember all those beautiful souls that were cruelly taken from us. We aspire that we will be worthy of their memories. May their memories be a blessing. May their memories be our guideposts to work to bring swiftly to pass the visions of our scripture that “nation shall not take up sword against nation and they shall study war no more” and that “every family shall sit under its own vine and fig tree with no one to disturb their peace.” (Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:4)

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