As I drove to do my reserve duty tonight I heard a commercial on the radio from one of Israel’s cellular phone companies. The advertisement went something like this:
“We understand that for you, the soldiers posted on the front lines, it is important to stay in touch with your homes so we are giving you a 50% discount when you make calls, 24 hours a day, from Judea, Sumaria, Gaza and the Northern border. So stay in touch with home and the people who are important to you.”
Then I heard another commercial, the voice of an old woman introduced herself as someone who has lived in Israel for years and has raised several generations of Israelis. “In these troubled times,” she said, “I want to tell our soldiers that for their efforts I am very proud of them.” (This was sponsored by the Histadrut Workers’ Union)
I did my duty tonight, being immersed in information about injured soldiers and hundreds of injured Israeli civilians, about the desire of Arab terrorists to destroy us and their commitment to Jihad and the eradication of Israel, and about the anti-Israel actions of others, especially “humanitarian organizations.” For instance tonight I worked on material about a religious ruling issued by the Chief Mufti of the Palestinian Authority justifying suicide terrorist attacks as actions for Allah and Islam, promising suicide terrorists a place in Heaven with all of their needs met (food, drink, clothing, and 72 virgins) and the opportunity to intercede with Allah on the behalf of 70 family members, guaranteeing their place in Heaven. Another example of material I worked on: Today, the Israeli Defense Forces delivered humanitarian aide to the Franciscan fathers in Manger Square. However, the I.D.F. also tried to get medicine, medical equipment and humanitarian aide to the Christians in the Church of the Nativity, to evacuate the wounded and to remove corpses. Israel turned to the International Red Cross for help in this mission. The representatives of the Red Cross absolutely refused to enter the area and help Israel deliver the aide. Nonetheless, we are continuing our efforts to deliver humanitarian aide to the Christians in the church.
Once I finished my shift and I was driving back from my reserve duty in the early hours of the morning, I turned on the radio to help keep me awake. Flipping the stations, an elderly woman’s kind, understanding voice drew me to her words. She was saying how we have many stories about heroes and unfortunately we usually only hear about them once they die. She mentioned some people who had helped establish the State of Israel and who had recently died. Then she took a call. The caller’s older brother, had trained this woman in the Palmach (the force which protected the Jews and fought for Israel’s Independence before there was a State). Both brothers had come to Israel from Yugolslavia where the older brother had been an officer in the army for two years after being drafted. Later on, he was the only member of the Jewish resistance to the Nazis to be trained in the American army as a paratrooper. Others of that era, including the second brother, were trained in Britain. Both had been among the founders of Kibbutz Ein Gev. They left behind their father and brother who were taken to the Nazi concentration camps in Europe. Both brothers were among the heroic forces which jumped behind enemy lines to help Jews and gather information. This man’s brother had jumped with Chanah Senesh (see below for more information on her) and was the last of her comrades to see her alive. When they jumped, the two brothers discovered that their brother and father were alive and liberated from the camps. They went to meet them and brought them back to Kibbutz Ein Gev in addition to other operations which helped Jews and gathered information for the war effort.
After the interview, they played the song “Eli, Eli” which Chanah Senesh wrote (below). As it played, I drove through the canyon where Israeli convoys bringing supplies to the besieged city of Jerusalem during the struggle for Independence were ambushed by Arabs and many lives were lost. I drove up what is now a highway lined with Israeli flags for Independence Day. Climbing the hills before Jerusalem, I reached the peak and saw the city of Jerusalem in the distance, I burst into tears. Making aliyah (going up) to Jerusalem, I put it all into context. I was so overwhelmed. The tears strolled down my cheeks as I returned from my reserve duty to my home in Jerusalem, Israeli flags surrounding me, Jerusalem on the horizon, listening to a song written by one of me heroe, s who gave her young and promising life pursuing the same dreams which I have based on the same beliefs I have (see below).
Once I got home, I tried to phone in to the radio show to thank them, but I could not get through. Another reserve soldier who is my age called in from Jenin with thoughts similar to mine. The hostess of the show, who revealed that she is almost exactly my mother’s age, thanked the soldier saying, “Without you we would not have the ability to live our lives here” to which he responded “we never would have been here to start with without you who fought in the Palmach to establish the State.”
More than ever, I know that this is where I belong. These are my people. This is my history. I am an active participant in setting the course of Jewish history and not a spectator sitting on the sidelines.
Tomorrow night begins Memorial Day when we remember all of those who fought for Israel’s Independence and against the Nazis in the Partisan Resistance. At 8:00 pm when a siren will sound throughout Israel and we will all stand in a moment of silence to remember, I will be on my way to start another twelve hour shift in my reserve service within the Israeli Defense Forces. I can’t think of any place I’d rather be or any better way to honor those who have fallen so that we may live.
To those of you who will not be standing with me, Hadassah has called for a Fast Day in solidarity with Israeli Memorial Day. Also, to all of those who are not here, I want to thank you for all that you are doing – writing letters to politicians and the press, buying Israeli products and bonds, attending rallies and staying in touch, whether through e-mail, phone calls, or visits, supporting those of us who are here.
Wherever you are and whatever you do, take some time this Memorial day to say “Thank You” – in whatever way you feel is appropriate – to those heros who have allowed all of us to live our lives in whatever way we have chosen to.
Postscript: Driving to reserve duty on the evening of Israel’s Memorial Day, I approached a small park on the side of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway as the hour of 8pm approached when Israel would come to a standstill and stand in a moment of silence for the fallen as sirens sounded. I pulled to the side, parked my car and waited.
Nine years earlier, while I was serving my compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces after immigrating from the United States, a soldier’s body had been found here. At that time, a standard terrorist attack was the abduction of Israeli citizens and their murder. There were also drive-by shootings and more massive attacks.
Yehoshua Friedberg’s body had been found, several days after he’d been missing in March 1993. I was among the first to hear the news, having been stationed in the I.D.F. Spokesperson’s Unit. Like me, Yehoshua (Jason) had come to Israel from North America and was serving his compulsory service before beginning his life here. Like me, Jason traveled to and from his home in Jerusalem, where, like me he had a serious girlfriend. Like me, he left his family overseas, including his parents, to follow his dream. Yehoshua never got to follow his dream. He never saw his parents again. He never married that girlfriend. He never had children. I stood on that spot as the siren sounded. I thought of all the things that he never had, all the things which had been taken from him in a brutal murder, all the things which I am fortunate enough to have. As I have since the day it happened, I kept thinking, it could have been me.
More information on Chana Senesh:
Chana Senesh ( 1921-1944 ) : Israeli pioneer and paratrooper. Although safe in Palestine at the outbreak of the Holocaust, Chana joined the British airforce. She volunteered to parachute into her native Hungary in an attempt to save the Jews and gather information. On March 13, 1944 she jumped. During the mission, she was captured, imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis. While in prison, she taught other inmates to read. She never betrayed any of her fellow freedom fighters, even under torture. She was executed at the age of 22.
O Lord my Lord
That will never end
The sand and the sea
The rush of the waters
The lightning in the sky
The prayer of man
Eli, Eliz She lo yigamer leolam
Hakhol ve hayam
Rishrush shel hamayim
From her Diary:z October 27, 1938 I don’t know whether I’ve already mentioned that I’ve become a Zionist. This word stands for a tremendous number of things. To me it means, in short, that I now consciously and strongly feel that I am a Jew, and am proud of it. My primary aim is to go to Palestine, to work for it. Of course this did not develop from one day to the next; it was a somewhat gradual development. There was first talk of it about three years ago, and at that time I vehemently attacked the Zionist Movement. Since then people, events, times, have all brought me closer to the idea, and I am immeasurably happy that I’ve found this ideal, that I now feel firm ground under my feet, and can see a definite goal towards which it is really worth striving. I am going to start learning Hebrew, and I’ll attend one of the youth groups. In short I’m really going to knuckle down properly. I’ve become a different person, and it’s a very good feeling.
One needs something to believe in, something for which one can have whole-hearted enthusiasm. One needs to feel that one’s life has meaning, that one is needed in this world. Zionism fulfills all this for me. One hears a good many arguments against the Movement, but this doesn’t matter. I believe in it, and that’s the important thing.
I’m convinced Zionism is Jewry’s solution to it’s problems, and that the outstanding work being done in Palestine is not in vain.