July 13, 2024
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A Soldier’s Parent’s Perspective of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut

Thirty-four years ago, as an 18-19-year-old, I spent a year learning in Israel and had my first opportunity to experience Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day).

It took a while, until we moved to Israel almost six years ago, to experience my next one.

From that moment 34 years ago until this one, my feelings of Memorial Day and Independence Day were somewhat distant and removed. Thirty-four years ago I had a feeling, perhaps misguided according to some, that I had no right to grieve with or console the families. In fact, I remember vividly refusing to go to Har Herzl, the main military cemetery in Jerusalem, while the rest of the school went. My thinking was, who am I to console these parents who lost family members and children who were the same age as I was? Who was I, a coddled American living it up away from home for a year only to return a month later to my sheltered life, to console these parents? Couldn’t they say to me that if only I were here their child may have been spared? Those vivid recollections have stayed with me throughout my adult life. In fact, those thoughts have impacted the way I view Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. Nothing, not even moving to Israel, has radically changed my approach (or some would call non-empathic view) of these two days.

That is, until this year.

This year I have a son serving in the paratroopers and another one who just had his first draft notice. My oldest, of course, is in a combat unit and my second also wants the same.

I am now part of those select parents who put their children in harm’s way to protect our land and the Jewish people. I worry about my sons’ futures, their health and safety constantly. I worry about their life after the army. What the sights and experiences might do to them. I pray every day that my oldest son’s unit is in a safe place and not in harm’s way. I pray for my son and his comrades.

To this extent I now feel a bond with those families who have lost loved ones. Of course I have the blessings of seeing my son, hearing him, joking with him, and they don’t, and from that perspective we are very different. On the other hand, I cannot help but feel their pain and agony over their loss more intensely than ever before.

These two days, so diametrically opposed in one sense and so right to be put together in the other, have new meaning for me. My prayers on these days are different. They no longer seem abstract. I pray longer, my prayers have more meaning. I pray for the grief-stricken families. I pray for the souls of those lost (I feel their presence and holiness throughout the day and especially during the two-minute siren). I cry. I pray even harder than usual for my children. I will recite the Hallel on Independence Day and truly mean it.

And I will thank God for all the blessings He has bestowed upon my family including, despite all the difficulties, the honor of returning to our home.

May God bless our soldiers, who protect us every day, and the State of Israel—reishit s’michat geulateinu.

By Addam Berger

 Addam Berger is a former resident of Teaneck who made aliyah with his family in July 2011.

 

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