For 2015, Israel’s Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance/Memorial Day) fell on Wednesday, April 22nd. On this day, all of Israel paused to remember fallen soldiers.
It’s been estimated that close to 25 per cent of Israel’s Jews will visit militaries cemeteries this week (Miriam Elman, “1948 – How American Jewish Pilots Helped Win Israel’s War of Independence”, Legal Insurrection, April 21, 2015). In America, that would translate to some 75 million people.
That many Americans don’t go to military cemeteries during the week of Memorial Day. But in Israel, we do that. We do it because virtually every one of us knows a family who has grieved because of war.
Israel is a very small country. We suffer greatly because of our enemies. Our fight to survive is real—and on-going.
During its 66 years of existence, Israeli soldiers have died in nine ‘formal’ ‘engagements’ against its Arab enemies: 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982 (first Lebanon war), 2006 (second Lebanon war) and then three against Gaza: 2008-9, 2012, 2014. In addition, there have been numerous other firefights and attacks during these 66 years in which Israeli soldiers have been killed.
On this solemn day, Israel also remembers those civilians who have been murdered by Arabs in acts of terror. To this day, Arabs maintain an on-going war against Israel. In their war against us, Arabs deliberately target civilians. Therefore, civilians murdered by such an enemy are included as part of Israel’s Remembrance Day.
Altogether, 23,320 Israelis qualify to be officially counted as having been killed in this on-going war. Perhaps 89 per cent of this number were soldiers. The remainder were victims of Arab terror.
For this Memorial Day, my family went to Har Herzl, Israel’s National Cemetery. Har Herzl is Israel’s version of America’s Arlington National Cemetery. We went for two reasons. First, of course, to participate in the gathering to honor soldiers who had died so that we could live. To borrow a phrase from former US President Abraham Lincoln, we went to Har Herzl to honor those who had given the last full measure of devotion to their country—and to their G-d, whose land this is.
But we went to Har Herzl for another reason, this one far more personal—and painful. We went to honor our friend, Cpl David Gordon.
There are many ways to remember David. I choose to remember him as he was buried—a soldier who fought with exceptional valor for the Jewish people. Last year, he was buried at Har Herzl with full military honors, including eulogies of praise from his battle commanders and a 21-gun salute.
Today, Yom HaZikaron, we went to his grave. We saw his sister. We saw at least one of his officers.
His grave was surrounded by a crowd. I didn’t recognize most who had come to be with him.
His grave was covered with ‘honor’: flowers, candles, pins, pictures (I think what I saw were pictures) and many, many army service pins.
It’s a gesture of love, these small pins. As a soldier visits the grave of a fallen comrade, he places upon the grave one of his service pins. He does this so that when a stranger passes the grave, he will see all the pins; he will thereby understand what this fallen one meant to his comrades.
Not every grave has pins. Not every grave has such a collection of pins as we saw on David’s grave.
His grave was so crowded with flowers and ‘things’, I wasn’t—at first—certain this was his grave (I didn’t see his sister until a few minutes later). I couldn’t see his name on his tombstone. I bent over (between several people). I wanted to move aside bunches of flowers that lay in such a way as to cover partially the name engraved on the tombstone. As I reached down to move the flowers aside I asked, softly, is this David?
A twenty-something man standing next to me looked at me. Silently, he nodded. I returned his nod.
I had reached David’s resting place. Through a crowd that might have numbered more than 100,000, I had pushed my way to him. I had found him—my hero.
Those who designed Har Herzl didn’t design a small cemetery. They created a very large tract where sections could be opened ‘as needed’. David lies in one of the new sections.
When we buried him almost eight months ago, I believe he had only one neighbour. Now he has many. Too many.
These graves are fresh. These deaths are fresh. The pain is fresh.
Those buried here have now experienced their first Yom HaZikaron (Israel Remembrance Day). May their names never be forgotten. May their blood be avenged.