Over the last two days the State of Israel has endured, as it does annually, a roller coaster of emotion. Setting aside an entire day to mourn, recall, and reflect on the sacrifices on which The State stands. Followed immediately by unparalleled revelry and celebrations of survival and appreciation of the independence of a vibrant and thriving Israel is never easy, but always meaningful. This particular cycle was especially powerful personally, as it was my first while serving in the army. The Nahal brigade has been adopted by the City of Jerusalem, and as such we were selected to participate in a number of ceremonies throughout the city.
I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to be in the honor guard in three ceremonies. We drilled all day Sunday in the heat, practicing maneuvers that would become part of the ceremony that evening and the next day. Late in the afternoon, the mood began to shift as the sun neared the horizon. Despite the personal discomfort from the repeated rehearsals, I began to recognize that the role that I was playing in the ceremony was extremely important to the community members who would be attending. Finally we marched in and assumed our positions. Seconds before the siren, we stood at attention. With the first wail of the siren, those assembled instantly mirrored us, standing at attention. From that point on, I stopped attempting to maintain a steely stare, and began looking at faces. Each set of eyes stared back, sharing pain and appreciation for the other. As the ceremony progressed and my knees grew weaker, I noticed the children. As I gazed out over them, all I could hope was that they would never have to stand where I was standing. Tears
Two more ceremonies on Monday. The first was the Jerusalem municipal ceremony next to city hall. Standing on the stage behind Mayor Barkat looking out at the large plaza, assembled soldiers with whom I serve, and Israeli flags flying at half mast, I was overcome with emotion. The Army cantor intoned the memorial prayer and tears flowed from my eyes. As he reached the words, “soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces,” a chill went down my spine. Wrapped in my own thoughts, I maintained a stoic face even as those tears continued. What was I doing there? An immigrant, a soldier without immediate family in the country, knowingly putting myself in danger for a state where I was not born. Honoring the sacrifice of the soldiers before me whose lives were lain upon the alter of the State of Israel, whose lives allow me to live in a thriving Israel, that is what I was doing. The final ceremony was significantly smaller, and equally more personal. Once concluded a woman approached us, asked us to keep her safe, and to tell us that she is praying for our safe return to our families. Tears.
I concluded the day with a trip to Har Herzl, the military cemetery in Jerusalem. Despite the heat, I rolled down my sleeves and put on my beret. I knew that I needed this experience for me, I had helped others in honoring the fallen, and I needed to do the same. As I passed grave after grave, I read names, ages, places of birth and death. Each one became extremely personal. Each soldier has a story, a family, a personality, he is not just a headstone with a name and an army identification number. All of the young men with whom I serve have a story, a family, and a personality, they are much more than an army identification number, how would I, if necessary memorialized them? I then began to consider how I would want to be remembered should something, God forbid, happen to me. What stories would I want told? Who would tell them? Tears.
Last evening, after returning from Har Herzl and removing my uniform, I attended a celebratory t’fillat arvit (evening service) before taking to the streets of Jerusalem. A day of delicious food, friends, and relaxation was the prefect way to celebrate. Thus concludes this forty-eight hour roller coaster ride. The sheer contrast of emotions leads me, and I imagine greater Israel, to appreciate the State, the price necessary for it to exist, as well as the effort needed to make it perfect.