Elyakim Rubinstein
Elyakim Rubinstein
Photo: Gil Yohanan

A nation of grief and joy

Opinion: On Memorial Day, some of us mourn in private, others reach out to bereaved families to share in their pain, others still provide solace to those living in solitude; while our own memories can be ephemeral, the national memory is ingrained into our collective DNA

Elyakim Rubinstein |
Published: 04.13.21 , 23:40
Every year, on Israel's Memorial Day for the fallen IDF soldiers and terror victims, during the quiet hours of the afternoon, I go to the military cemetery at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem and visit the ever-growing number of graves and monuments.
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  • I go to visit my cousin, Avraham, missing in action with six of his comrades since a 1952 battle at sea. A monument to their memories was erected on the grounds of the cemetery.
    I visit Asher, my friend from grade school, and Shimon, whom I befriended when we studied law together, both killed in the 1967 Six-Day War and buried side by side.
    I visit the sons of friends, Eyal and Alex who died in the First Lebanon War; Eviatar, Amir and Aviad, who were killed on the West Bank.
    I stand by the memorial for Jewish soldiers killed during WWII, among them my cousin Dudi who died in Finland before I ever had the chance to meet him.
    I also visit another soldier whom I had never met, Haim. He was killed by friendly fire and his father fought tirelessly to keep his memory alive and ultimately died of grief.
    I remember Nimrod, another cousin who died in the Sinia Desert in the 1973 Yom Kippur War; I remember my own army comrade Shai and my university mate Aryeh who we called Papa, both were killed in the War of Attrition.
    There were four generations of Jewish soldiers in my family; soldiers who fought in the Czarist forces in Russia, in the Polish army, in the Red Army, but most fought in the IDF and three fell in action.
    3 צפייה בגלריה
    בית העלמין הצבאי בהר הרצל ביום הזיכרון
    בית העלמין הצבאי בהר הרצל ביום הזיכרון
    A man grieving at the grave of a fallen IDF soldier at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl
    (Photo: TPS)
    Is there anyone amongst us who does not know a family that lost a loved one either in combat or to terrorism?
    The fallen show us the immense cost of independence and the importance of preserving it and our country.
    Memorial Day is observed in different ways. Some Israelis are immersed in their personal loss while others join with organizations who care for the bereaved families.
    Volunteers all over Israel visit people who live in solitude, many of them Holocaust survivors, to offer solace on this somber day. Those people especially need solace so very much.
    Personal memory is elastic, often ephemeral, while the national memory is strong and written into our collective DNA.
    3 צפייה בגלריה
    הר הרצל בירושלים
    הר הרצל בירושלים
    IDF soldiers place flags on the graves of the fallen at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl
    (Photo: Reuters)
    When he died, my father left us a written testament of the murder of his family, who along with the rest of the town's Jews who were shot dead while standing over an open pit.
    "Say Kaddish for them," he wrote.
    Our family does not dwell on that tragic memory, but we must know it and preserve it.
    In the Hebrew calendar, spring is a fascinating account of Jewish and Israeli history.
    Passover represents the liberation of a people, and is swiftly followed by Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Jerusalem Day. They are followed by Shavuot, when the Jewish people were given the Torah.
    This mixture of joy and grief, national milestones and religious and spiritual practices, the physical and spiritual together, is our treasure, one that provides us with the strength to live on.

    Elyakim Rubinstein is a former Supreme Court justice and attorney general of Israel

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