By Sondra Oster Baras
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Tonight as the sun sank into the horizon and dark fell in Israel, we began the process of memory. Each year, on the day before Israel’s Independence Day, we commemorate our fallen soldiers and our victims of terrorism, those brave, mostly young men and women who fell in service of our country or who were murdered in vile acts of terror.
Last week we commemorated the 6 million victims of the Holocaust. Two memorial days, separated by just a few days, provide the shadow that accompanies us into one of the most festive days of the year, Independence Day. These two terribly sad days, filled with memories of loved ones and lost opportunities, of sacrifice and tragedy, accompany us, never allowing us to forget the price that we paid and continue to pay for being Jewish, for trying to live our lives in our own land.
Last week, we remembered our parents and grandparents, who were murdered by the Nazis and who didn’t live to see their hope turn into reality. As they were murdered, they hoped and prayed that our people would survive the horror, that someone would live to give testimony of the depths of anti-Semitism and what such hatred of the Jewish people could produce. We remember our parents who survived the Holocaust, who carried the scars of that terrible time and managed to create new life, here in Israel.
Tonight we remember our children and the children of our neighbors and friends. Those young people who fought so bravely to protect our country from murderous enemies. Those young people whose only “sin” was to try and enjoy life in a local shopping center, on a bus, in a coffee shop, and who were murdered by suicide bombers and violent attackers as they laughed and smiled with their friends.
Tonight, hundreds of residents of Karnei Shomron, and I among them, walked up to the center and gathered for a moment of silence followed by a ceremony in memory of the fallen of Israel and, in particular, the fallen from our own community. Every soldier and terrorist victim who had lived in Karnei Shomron or who had been a member of the immediate family of a Karnei Shomron resident was mentioned tonight. Lest we forget.
Different residents, young and old, men and women, read letters, poems and personal testimonies about their loved ones. Chagit and Shimon Rein lit the memorial flame which will remain lit for the next 24 hours. Chagit and Shimon lost their son Benaya during the Second Lebanon War while he was engaged in a mission to save soldiers trapped in the field. He managed to save so many before he, himself, was shot and killed.
Rabbi Zvi Bamberger shared a message of faith and hope. Rabbi Bamberger’s son Yehuda was murdered by terrorists who invaded the yeshiva in Otniel where he was studying Bible and Talmud as part of his military service.
Chani Friedman remembered her friend Keren Shatzky, murdered by terrorists here in our own community seven years ago. Keren was 15 when she was murdered, together with her two friends, Nechemiah Amar and Rachel Thaylor. Chani, who grew up with these children and shared everything with Keren until the traumatic evening in February 2002, is now a young married woman, expecting her first child. She has grown up and moved on. Keren, Nechemiah and Rachel will remain children forever. And, as such, they are remembered.
So many deaths, so much tragedy and sorrow. We are just over 7,000 people in Karnei Shomron and yet every one of us knows so many people who were killed, wounded, orphaned or widowed in the many wars and terrorist attacks that have plagued us since we returned to this land.
When the spies returned to the Children of Israel and reported their findings to Moses and the nation, they referred to the land as a land which devours its inhabitants (Numbers 13:32). They demoralized the people and were punished severely for their lack of faith. But I so often wonder if there wasn’t some truth in what they said. Ever since we came back to this land, we have been attacked and our existence threatened. Not one minute of quiet, of peace, of serenity. There is something about this land that attracts us. This is a land we cling to with every fiber of our being. We don’t want to let go. We love to explore its valleys and mountains, drink the water of its springs and swim in its rivers. We look out to the sea with a wonder as to what lies beyond its shores, but have no desire to follow our gaze to other shores. We want to be here and we will never leave. But the price that we have had to pay. In some way, it is a land which has devoured so many of its inhabitants.
There is something vital in the commemoration of our fallen on the eve of the celebration of our independence. Lest we forget. Lest we forget, in the excitement of the celebration, the many victims, the heavy price we have paid. But as the Holocaust Memorial Day of the week before reminds us, we really never had a choice. Before we had our own country, we were chased and murdered across the earth, by the millions. And with our own country, we have a home, we have grown, we have borne children and made new lives for ourselves, for the children and grandchildren of those who perished in the Holocaust.
It is not easy to be a Jew. Why is it that G-d has led us to a land which eats its inhabitants? But that same G-d has led us to a land that is truly dripping in milk and honey. A land we love and cherish.
At the end of ceremony, after more than an hour of readings, sad songs, prayers and contemplation, we stood together and sang: “I believe with a complete faith in the coming of the Messiah and even if he should tarry I will wait for him to come.” And then we sang the Hatikvah, our national anthem, the Hope. We are filled with hope that one day things will be easier. That our celebrations will be untarnished with tragedy. That we will truly live in peace and celebrate our land and our destiny with a richness of joy that only a people who have lived through so much can appreciate.
Sondra Oster Baras
Director, Israel Office
Christain Friends of Israeli Communities