This year’s Yom Hazikaron was a little different for me.
This Yom Hazikaron, I had the task of guarding a relatively quiet area, making sure the Arab kfarim don’t disrupt the nearby Jewish yishuvim and passersby. I felt the zechut, merit, of continuing the work of so many before me who sacrificed their bodies and their lives, to allow for these Jews, yishuvim and kibbutzim to even exist here. There I was thinking that it was thanks to those before me, who fought and died to get this land, that I could do this shemira; thanks to the ones who had the strong will to fight for a country and people who have experienced so much sorrow and tragedy. Israel is a land which could have only been rescued by those heroes who possessed complete courage and fearlessness in the face of constant threat of extermination.
In Devarim, when the officials would address the nation before war, the final question they would ask is, “מִי הָאִישׁ הַיָּרֵא וְרַךְ הַלֵּבָב יֵלֵךְ וְיָשֹׁב לְבֵיתוֹ וְלֹא יִמַּס אֶת לְבַב אֶחָיו כִּלְבָבוֹ, What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, that he should not cause the heart of his brothers to melt as his heart has” (Devarim 20:8). However, this commandment does not apply just to the soldiers fighting in the war. There is a mitzvah mentioned in Sefer Hachinuch, “שלא לערץ ולפחד במלחמה, To not be terrified or to be afraid in war.” (Mitzvah 525). The Sefer Hachinuch writes “…the obligation upon us is to strengthen ourselves against them and to stand in front of them … from the roots of the commandment that everyone in Israel should place his trust in Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and not be afraid for his body in a situation that he can give glory to Hashem.” The author is saying that going to war isn’t just what happens on the front lines. Whether you’re actually fighting, preparing food, taking care of your family, a child or a grandparent, war is a time for everyone in Israel to not be fearful and to put their trust in Hashem.
While, thank God, there is no war in Israel right now, I have begun to think more about the internal battle we face in our commitment in returning to Israel. I speak most directly towards gap year age students, because you are who I can relate to most. At your age, you have an unbelievable opportunity not just to receive from Israel’s abundance—at yeshivas, gap year programs and summer camps—but also to give back, help and uplift the nation and country of Israel. You’re young, fresh and don’t have many responsibilities, thus offering a great opportunity to make aliyah right away.
On the flip side, not coming and staying in Israel maintains and bolsters fear of making aliyah soon after high school (which happens to be a much easier time to do it). It bolsters the fear that aliyah after high school is only for a certain kind of person, but not you. The fear of being away from family and home. It bolsters the fear that a successful career can only happen in America; or the fear that you won’t have friends or be able to start a family in Israel; or the fear that you will make a mistake and have no one to help you. We may fear the bureaucracy, the language or the culture. We may fear personal safety and terrorism itself. However, these fears are exactly the situations in which we are commanded to strengthen ourselves and put our faith in Hashem as a nation, and not spread fear through a lack of emunah.
Whether it’s going to the army, Sherut Leumi, college, or yeshiva, there are so many people waiting for you to ask for help, you just have to want it. At least consider a few possibilities to stay in Israel for a little while, before deciding no. See what you can do according to your abilities, but don’t automatically rule anything out. Celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut can not happen without commemorating Yom Hazikaron. Nor can we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut without a people in its land, including young and motivated leaders. Let’s follow in the steps of the heroes who gave their lives for this country, and fulfilled Yishayahu’s prophecy לְמַעַן צִיּוֹן לֹא אֶחֱשֶׁה וּלְמַעַן יְרוּשָׁלַ͏ִם לֹא אֶשְׁקוֹט עַד־יֵצֵא כַנֹּגַהּ צִדְקָהּ וִישׁוּעָתָהּ כְּלַפִּיד יִבְעָר “For the sake of Zion I will not be silent, For the sake of Jerusalem I will not rest,Till her righteousness emerge like brilliance and her triumph like a flaming torch” (62:1).
It’s probably the most meaningful and important thing you can do at this stage of your life.
Brian Racer is originally from Teaneck and lives in Beit Shemesh. He drafted to the IDF in March 2022 through Lev Lachayal and is currently serving as a sharpshooter in the 932nd Infantry Battalion in the Nachal Brigade.