Yom Hazikaron – Most Original Sight

Russian World War Two MedalI saw quite a bit today, on my Yom Hazikaron travels. Today, Israel’s Memorial Day for it’s fallen soldiers and terror vicitms, has been very meaningful for me.

After Shacharit (my morning prayers) at the Netzarim Yeshiva here in Ariel they recited a special “E-l Maleh Rachamim” (prayer in memory of people who passed away) for the martyrs of the Netzarim community, when it was in Gush Katif – including both Netzarim residents and fallen soldiers. My day opened with a genuine sense that every person who fell defending the State of Israel had not only a name and a family but also a purpose.

Later this morning i was in Petach Tikva for some time. On my way back home to Ariel I passed several Yom Hazikaron ceremonies being organized. The siren wailed while I was on the road – each of the cars pulled aside and each of the drivers stood aside in silent memory and honor. It was a powerful and meaningful moment, though not a suprising one. Only upon my return to Ariel did I see something that made me do a double-take.

After I dropped off the soldier that hitched a ride with me (whom I was pretty sure shed a tear while we were listening to the Har Herzl memorial ceremony over the radio) something rather unique caught my eye. On the opposite side of the road was an elderly man, wearing a sport jacket with civilian clothing – decorated with more medals and badges than I’d ever seen at one time before. Had I not been familiar with Ariel’s Russian war veteran’s museum I would have had no clue as to what was going on. It was, however, clear to me that this man was donning the medals that he recieved over many years of service in The Red Army. But in Israel?, on Yom Hazikaron?

It turns out that I missed the main event. There were many Yom Hazikaron ceremonies throughout Ariel, but one of the more original and interesting ones was in Ariel’s primary commercial center. There, the deputy mayor, along with city residents, paid tribute to Israel’s fallen soldiers. Some of the decorated war veterans from World War II were present. They were, and are Jews, who served in the Red Army in the fight against Hitler and the Germans.

It’s still somewhat surprising to me – the Red Army and Israel’s Memorial Day. Intellectually the correlation between the two seems to be a stretch, at best. And yet, for the war veteran’s there was a natural and necessary connection between the two. As though they were basically stating “we fought as Jews the best way a Jew could fight”. Their affinity to the Israeli Defense Forces is something they carry with them with every one of their medals.

I guess what struck me most about the whole thing was the seam between different stages of Jewish history. These men and their families lived and fought through one of the most profound shifts in the history of our People  – from the depths of the exile to the beginning of the Redemption. 

It’s absolutely amazing to me. As Jews, something deep down inside tells us that everything we are-  our personal experiences, our collective history – it all becomes meaningful when we build our lives in Israel. Sometime along the process of experiencing our Aliyah it finally becomes clear: everything we’ve been through is the basis of everything that we will be.  

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