The Jewish Blessing

By Naomi Ragen
May 5, 2014


….It was last night, watching the official memorial service for Israel’s fallen soldiers at the Western Wall. And in that holy place, Israel’s top general, its chief of staff, got up to speak.

What do you think he spoke about, the general and army man? If he were any other nationality or religion, and this were any country but Israel, we wouldn’t have to ask: The glory of our fallen heroes. Their bravery on the battlefield, their sacrifice. The greatness of our victories.

But not Israel’s Chief of Staff, Shaul Mofaz. He spoke about remembering the birth of a child. The first picture taken in kindergarten. The first baby tooth that falls. The bar mitzvah pictures. The graduation from high school. The mother’s kiss on the cheek of the new recruit. He spoke about the incalculable loss that each human being who dies in war is to his family, his parents, his grandparents, his brothers, sisters, girlfriend, wife, children. About the preciousness of life, and the horror of death.

Long before I became an Israeli and a resident of Jerusalem, I lived in America where I experienced numerous memorial days. There were the red, white and blue flags. But mostly, there were sales. I don’t think I ever saw the face of a single fallen American soldier on any television show let alone a day’s worth of shows devoted exclusively to soldiers killed in action, or in traffic accidents, or in terrorist attacks.

Memorial Day in Israel is like nothing else, I dare say, anywhere in the world. The country simply shuts down all distractions. Restaurants, bars, discos close down. Radio and television channels spend the day showing old pictures and new videos of soldiers who died five months, or 30 years ago. And the programs all emphasize the same thing: The man’s childhood, his home, his parents, his wife or girlfriend. The silly pictures from his high school parties. The smiling face of the little boy dressed up for Purim. The words of the friends, who never stop mourning, who never forget. And for one day, every single person in Israel who identifies with the Jewish state, and the lives of the people who live there, feel these men and women are part of their own past, their own family. We weep because we’ve lost them, weep as we would for the death of a beloved family member, who left this earth too young, too full of life. Weep for the loving family and friends he left behind.

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