There are two different kinds of sirens in Israel. An urgent rising and falling sound warns of an attack and is the signal to flee to the nearest bomb shelter or safe room. A mournful steady sound is for remembrance. This past week, we heard both sirens. Last Thursday morning, the siren sounded for two minutes all over the country, in every city, town and community and on every radio and TV station. The entire country stopped and stood still, heads bowed, in memory of the 6 million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis during World II. Cars stopped on the highways and passengers and drivers got out of their cars and stood at attention. People in the privacy of their homes and offices, pedestrians on busy and quiet streets, all stopped for two minutes to mourn our families, our ancestors who suffered and perished at the hands of brutal anti-Semites.
Just a few days later, on Shabbat, the sirens rang again but this time only in the southern part of the country. And the sirens sounded a different sound. As more than 400 missiles rained down on Southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, the menacing sirens ushered everyone into protected spaces. For several days and nights, the sirens went off. In some areas, just a few miles from Gaza, people had just a few seconds to reach safety before the missile hit. And some did not make it. Dozens were injured and four innocent people were killed. One man, a resident of Kfar Saba, just a 20 minute drive from where I live, was driving south on a work assignment. A missile hit his car, on a main highway, and he was killed instantly.
I was driving home on Sunday, listening to a broadcast from Ashkelon, the largest city close to Gaza, and the newscasters were interrupted by the siren. For a few short moments, we were able to hear and feel what our southern brothers and sisters were experiencing. I immediately phoned my friend Dror Vanunu, formerly of Gush Katif and in the last 10 years, resident of Nitzan, also within close range of the Gaza missiles. Dror works in central Israel but he had stayed home that day to be with his family as they all huddled in the safe room of their home. When they lived in Gaza, they suffered from ongoing attacks. Their forced departure from Gaza was meant to prevent further attacks but in reality, the attacks became fiercer and more potent than ever before.
Tonight and tomorrow is Memorial Day. Again the sirens will sound, again the mournful wail. As the siren sounded this evening, at 8 pm, we united in mourning the fallen soldiers and terror victims that we have lost since the founding of the State of Israel. More than 23,000 soldiers lost their lives defending the country from our enemies. So many young lives lost. Imagine what they could have contributed to our country had they lived. Imagine the children they would have brought into the world, the happiness they would have bestowed upon all who knew them. Their loss is felt most by their family and friends but their cumulative loss is felt by us all.
Tomorrow night, we will make the annual transition from mourning to celebration, as we celebrate 71 years of Independence. We will open celebrations in prayers of Thanksgiving and then dance, sing, enjoy presentations by our children and grandchildren, and watch the fireworks. The two days are marked one after another so that we may always remember the enormous sacrifice that enabled our freedom and that is the price we continue to pay to protect our families here in the Land of Israel.
The events of this past week represent Jewish existence throughout history and to this very day. Anti-Semitism is an enigma to us all. Why is it that the Jewish people have been hunted, persecuted, murdered and driven from place to place by nations all over the world? The Holocaust was the worst manifestation of anti-Semitism in history but it had been preceeded by centuries of lesser persecution.
Tonight the Chief of Staff of the IDF reminded us of the connection between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day. 70 years ago, there was no Jewish Army because there was no Jewish State. Jews were herded into the gas chambers because there was no one to protect them, no one to fight their battles. Today, there is a strong Jewish army, defending the State of Israel and ready to defend Jews everywhere. When Arab terrorists hijacked a plane full of Jews in 1976, the Israeli Army flew to Entebbe to rescue them. When the Jews of Ethiopia were in danger, the Israeli Army airlifted them to safety in 1991. And all Jews, wherever they may be today, need only ask and they too will be flown to Israel where they will be welcomed as citizens of their own country.
It isn’t easy living in Israel. And Anti-Semitism is still alive and well. The Hamas terrorists who shoot missiles at Israel have declared again and again that they want to destroy the one Jewish State. And they have supporters all over the world. The terrorists who murdered Jews in synagogues in the US in the past few months, the terrorists who murdered Jews in Paris a few years ago — all anti-Semites. But at least in Israel, we can defend ourselves. There has been serious criticism against the Israeli government that they have not been aggressive enough against the terrorists from Gaza and indeed, we hope and pray for a decisive victory. But at least we have the ability to strike. Thank G-d, we now have our own country and our own army. The sirens ring but we are no longer helpless victims. It is truly a miracle!