April 25, 2023
Sondra Oster Baras
Today is Israel’s Memorial Day for our fallen soldiers and terror victims. It is a difficult day for all of us but particularly difficult for those who have lost loved ones. Their loss permeates their lives each and every day, but one day each year, the entire nation mourns with them.
Last night, each community in Israel held its own ceremony to honor the memory of their loved ones. In addition, there is a national ceremony held at the Western Wall and televised to the nation. This morning, ceremonies were held at military cemeteries all over the country. The entire nation stood for a moment of silence as sirens blared opening both the evening and morning ceremonies.
At last night’s national ceremony, Shalom and Zur-Yehuda Yaniv recited the Mourner’s prayer, the Kaddish. It is a prayer that sanctifies God’s name, a way of trying to fill the vacuum that is left by the death of a loved one by reminding ourselves of God’s greatness. It is a difficult prayer to say when one has just experienced terrible loss, but one that provides strength through faith.
Yagel and Hillel Yaniv were murdered a few weeks ago while driving through the Arab village of Hawara, near their home in Har Bracha. Shalom is the father of these two young men; Zur-Yehuda is their younger brother who had just reached the age of 13 and was about to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah. Can you imagine losing two sons in one day? The tragedy and the loss is impossible to absorb. And then these two men, the adult Shalom and his young son Zur-Yehuda, stood before the nation and sanctified God’s name even as they remember their horrific loss.
Too many people were added to the list of the fallen this year. We remember the Dee family from Efrat who lost their mother Lucy and two sisters / daughters, Maya and Rena. Leo Dee was interviewed and talked about the need to begin life again. Nothing will ever be the same from now on. He, too, recites the Kaddish prayer every day.
As I watched the television this morning, I saw an old friend, Rena Robinson being interviewed. Rena’s son Matanya was killed in action in 2002 in Jenin. He celebrated the Passover seder with his family and was then was called back to his unit after the terrorist attack during a Seder celebration in the Park Hotel in Netanya. Matanya was a commander and his unit entered Jenin, one of the most hostile of Arab cities in Samaria. Terrorists had barricaded themselves in family homes, using civilians as their shields. Rather than bomb the area from above, which would have resulted in the killing of Arab civilians, the IDF soldiers went house to house, seeking the terrorists while trying to protect the civilians. They risked their lives in order to protect the lives of Arab civilians. Matanya paid the ultimate price as the terrorists attacked the soldiers.
Today, 21 years after that attack, Rena remembers her 22 year old son who will never grow older, who will never marry and give her grandchildren. His life ended far too soon. And Rena and her husband Marc, carry their loss within them every single day.
I remember well the terrible attack at Café Hillel in Jerusalem in September 2003, where a suicide bomber blew himself up and murdered 15 innocent people enjoying a night out. My dear friend Debra Applebaum lost her daughter Naava and her husband David that night. Naava was supposed to get married the next day and David and Naava were enjoying a quiet time together before her marriage. Instead of a wedding, we all went to their funeral the next day.
These are the people I remember on this sacred day. Some I know but so many I never had the privilege of meeting. As I see mothers and fathers, sons and daughters interviewed on TV, it all becomes so personal. Young and old, soldiers and civilians, from all over the country, were murdered just because they were Jews who had returned to our ancient homeland, the Land of Israel.
We are experiencing a wave of terrorism today that reminds us in so many ways of those terrible years of 2000—2004. When terrorist attacks were a daily occurrence. Thank God, we have not yet reached the level of those years, but so many have lost their lives in recent weeks. And even as I write these words, we know that our enemies are getting ready to attack us, from Syria and Lebanon in the north, from Iran in the east, from Gaza in the west, and from within our midst, the terrorists in Judea and Samaria. Each day, the IDF prevents terrorist attacks. Each day, terrorist infiltrations to Judea and Samaria communities are halted thanks to security cameras donated by you, our CFOIC Heartland supporters.
Tonight we will celebrate Israel’s Independence Day. A day of mourning will quickly transform into a day of celebration. We will kick off the festivities with a special prayer service, thanking God for the miracle of our restoration. Just last week, we honored the memory of the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Tonight we will remember that had there been a State of Israel during World War II, the Holocaust would have never happened.
Yes, we continue to pay the price for our freedom and for our revival as a nation. We pray each day that our suffering will end, that peace will come. We know that it will happen in God’s time. In the meantime, we mourn and we celebrate and do the best we can to build a nation and a land that we can all be proud of.