I’ve never been a fan of Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day – a day on which masses of soldiers visit schools, cemeteries and houses of mourning, like swarms of uniforms and insignia coming to give their last respects to a fallen friend, father, brother or sister.
I have trouble with this day. Something in me doesn’t relate to sadness (although I have had friends who have fallen in action) or to collective memory (I’ve never seen myself as part of a collective), or to memory for that matter (even though I have served myself). But for some reason, every year I was drawn to the Memorial Day ceremony at school. Why? Maybe because I wanted to feel like I belonged, or like a hero because I showed up in uniform, or to comfort mourners because the tissue always peaked out of the pocket of my wrinkled uniform.
For many years I tried to understand why although I had no connection to this day, but was still drawn each Memorial Day to the same place.
One day, it hit me: What if it happened to me? What if this happened to my children? What would I do then?
On February 4, 1997, two Israeli Air Force helicopters collided in mid-air over the Hula Valley. One crashed in the moshav She’ar Yashuv, the other in an open field. 73 soldiers were killed in this disaster, among them soldiers of the Golani Brigade, Nachal, and two dogs in active service.
They were not killed by enemy fire, or by an explosive device while evacuating a building in Gaza, or by a rocket attack launched from one of the countries calling on Israel to be destroyed because we are living on their land – but from a mistake, a fatal mistake that took the lives of people’s children, brothers and friends.
Lieutenant Erez Stark, one of the soldiers killed in the tragedy, left behind a notebook with poems, songs and essays. In one of these poems he wrote:
Nothing will hurt me, nothing,
Not a woman, nor a terrorist’s bullet, nothing,
Because that’s what I swore to my brother, my sister, my parents
And I cried by night and took care by day
Because I was afraid something would hurt my parents
And my father’s voice echoes in my head
After Erez was killed in the crash, the group Knessiat HaSechel (The Church of Reason) took the poem, put a melody to it, and released it for Memorial Day. The song was received very positively by Israelis and became a sort of national anthem for Yom HaZikaron. But more importantly, it encapsulated the pain that every Israeli feels on this day – and that some feel every day. That we promise to our parents that we will be ok, that we will come back healthy, victorious and not losers, with our heads held high and not with our tails between our legs. But what if we do not? What if we are hit not by a terrorist’s bullet, but by something else?
In the second verse, Erez wrote:
If you’re standing above me now
I must not have kept my word
Then it hit me: Maybe I come back each year to say that I am still here, like a checklist to verify that I still exist and I didn’t go anywhere, and even though some of my friends didn’t keep their promise and are no longer here, I still am, and I’m keeping my promises. And if I’m still here, I can change something so that it won’t happen again.
And maybe, just maybe, one day in Israel people won’t have to promise their parents, friends and siblings that they will return. They just will.
To listen to the song, click here