May 22, 2019

We Should Sacrifice, Not Just Celebrate

Yizkor stickers. Standing at attention. The blaring of a siren. Reading the names of fallen soldiers.

For many schools, these are the time-honored hallmarks of every commemoration for Yom HaZikaron. And although each component is important, the question is: Are they enough?

I reached out to my aunt and uncle, whose son was injured in Tzuk Eitan in 2014, to help me answer this question. In Tzuk Eitan, 67 soldiers were killed and 1,434 were wounded. My first cousin, Boaz, was one of those injured. My aunt, in talking about the “horim ha’shikulim” — the mothers and fathers whose children were killed and whose lives were forever changed one hot summer day in July 2014 — said:

“Each of these mothers will never again get to hear the front door opening and their son calling, ‘Hi, Ema! I’m home!’ Their beds will never be slept in, their clothes never worn, their seat at the table will always be empty, and their mothers will never get to see them grow into the people they were meant to be. This is a terrible, unbearable tragedy.”

But, she continued, “Boaz lives every day with the price he paid to keep us safe and our dream of Zion alive. Every day he deals with physical and emotional pain that few understand and fewer still can relate to. He will never be whole, and he will never be free of it. And like him are 50,000 other Israelis, all ‘nechai tzahal’ (injured veterans).”

Exposing our students to the wounded living heroes enables us to empathize with the very real struggles  of all Israelis.

The reality is that Israel, like many other countries, struggles with how to support its wounded veterans. It is easier to ignore them. Yet, we must be there for all the wounded soldiers. And exposing our students to the wounded living heroes enables us to understand and empathize with the very real struggles and anxieties of all Israelis.

Whose story should we tell? We need to honor the people who paid the ultimate price to protect all of us, and we need to honor those people who spend their lives continuing to pay the price for their sacrifice.

It’s no secret that American Jews have, in the past several years, been less enthusiastic in their support for Israel. The way to fundamentally combat this trend is, of course, at the level of education. We must develop curricula and school cultures that reinforce Zionist passion and identity. To that end, Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) and Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) serve as ripe opportunities for students to establish a connection to the Jewish state, its inhabitants and its history.

The questions arise: Should we consider different approaches to how we commemorate Yom HaZikaron? Should we limit the ceremony to those who gave up their lives, or can we include the wounded as well?

Every citizen of Israel, as we all know, must answer the call of duty for military service. Of course, that call of duty comes with tremendous risk — of losing one’s life  or suffering psychological and physical trauma.

We need to recall that, as mythical Israel turns 70, real Israelis live each day with the pain of sacrifice to make it a reality.

Let’s make sure we don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. Let’s remember that Yom HaZikaron changed throughout the years. Israel used to commemorate only the fallen soldiers of the 1948 War of Independence but changed to also commemorate those who gave their lives in pre-state years. Israel used to commemorate only those lost in war and changed to commemorating victims of terror as well.

My point is this: It is less important to follow an almost talmudic preciseness of what the day traditionally calls for than it is to connect our students to the sacrifices that real people make so that our unbelievable country, our dream — Medinat Yisrael — could exist.

Let’s come together as educators, parents and students to realize that the most important things are for our youth to connect with Israel, love Israel and care about Israel, and to commemorate those who gave up their lives and those whose lives are forever impacted.

Noam Weissman is senior vice president of education for Jerusalem U.