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 Yom HaZicharon - “To Be Without Family...”

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daniel eliezer

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Posts : 82
Join date : 2011-12-01
Location : Beit El, Israel

PostSubject: Yom HaZicharon - “To Be Without Family...”   Sun May 04, 2014 5:34 am

For those who have difficulty with the transliterated Hebrew and who don't have access
to Jewish libraries, most transliterated Hebrew can probably be found through Google.
If the word is critical to what I'm saying, then it is explained.

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In Israel Yom HaZicharon – Memorial Day intentionally precedes Yom HaAtzmaut – Independence Day. The calendar dates are the  4th  & 5th of Iyar, which in order that no preparations should begin on Shabbat always occur on Mon.-Thurs., which means this year it’s Sunday night-Monday through Monday night-Tuesday.


Yom HaZicharon-Yom HaAtzmaut
Memorial Day-Independence Day (A Connecting Hyphen; not a Separating One)

“To Be Without Family...”

In Israel, early on during basic training there’s Parents’s Visitation Day, a day, which, as it’s name implies, is a day set aside for us parents and family and friends to visit our soldiers on the training base. We get to see some of the equipment they’re trained with and on, see some of where they live, get to meet each other a little, and, especially, get to hear from their officers what their life is going to be. This is important, because for a combat and advanced combat units during the next year and a half they’ll go from basic infantry training to advanced combat training to specialized training. It’s a long arduous process until they even begin to be on-duty soldiers, and in our small, intimate country family contribution is a substantial part of both the army and of every soldier’s life.

To be without family?...well it almost doesn’t exist. There are young men from outside of Israel who come to volunteer for the army, and every single one of them is placed with an adoptive family, of which there is an ever-ready waiting list to get them. This guarantees that every Israeli soldier has someone personal to turn to to help him, and a place to be when he’s not in the army. Here and there are soldiers who decline, but they’re not permitted until there’s been serious attempt to convince them otherwise.

At the end of Parents’s Visitation Day, Yonatan and I road back to Jerusalem with a fellow soldier of his and his friend’s parents. It was a three and half hour ride, which left us with plenty of time to talk. His friends father, Chaim, is American and his mother is Israeli, but she has only sisters so even for her this really was her first close-up look at the army. During our chatting, I asked his father what his family name is, and the name he gave me is solid and known Jewish name. Upon hearing it, I asked him, “Are you related to so-and-so a known rabbinical figure in America many years ago).” Turning to me, he replied in deep pain, “We’re not related to anyone named _________; my entire family was wiped out in the Holocaust. Although those with the same family name as mine are not related to me.”

There’s nothing you can really say to a statement like that, and I didn’t try. However, I didn’t fail to take notice of the message and the tone of his voice.

We spoke about many things: army, how we got to Israel, our lives, etc., and when about two thirds of the way home he explained to us that not far from the upcoming [known] intersection (Israel is a country where specific intersections are known landmarks and are used for navigation) there exists a [small] National Park dedicated to some 360 soldiers who fell during Israel’s War of Independence. These weren’t just any soldiers, but soldiers who had survived the Nazi Extermination Camps and afterwards discovered that they were the last surviving members of their entire families. These men, like so many other European Jews after the Holocaust, succeeded in reaching Israel prior - and often just prior - to the war to prevent our annihilation, which upon victory, thank God, became the War for Independence. With the fate of their people and their people’s dreams at stake, these survivors and refugees joined the army, and in war being war, survivors and refugees gave up their lives for the sake of their people. There is no one to remember them, and this small, even minuscule, National Park is a monument to these survivors and refugees who fell - specifically some 360 men - men with whom died the last hopes for their own specific families and lineages. This is what Chaim told us, not exactly in all these words, but it is what he wanted us to understand.

What Chaim couldn’t know is that I heard the story differently. I’ve thought about it and written about it, and for the longest time I’ve known just how Holy these men were. But I also knew that I couldn’t really tell Chaim this, so I said to him. “God doesn’t forget. Their families haven’t been destroyed; they’ll be remembered for eternity.”

What I could say to him, I said a short time later. I related a story about my father-in-law that goes like this. The material in italics is relevant information for us. By merely mentioning ‘born in Hungary’, Chaim understood thoroughly, needing only scant information here and there.

My father-in-law was born in Hungary, just after WWI, and he grew up there until 1939 when he fled Europe. [When he was a youth, he went on a hunger strike because he wanted to go to Eretz Yisrael. His parents, like so many of their generation, were opposed to his going to Eretz Yisrael, so they convinced him to take his brothers and flee to relatives living in America.] My father-in-law relates that the first time that he and his brothers left home to go to America it was very difficult to part from his family and especially his mother. It tore her heart to see her four sons leaving and not having any promise that she’d ever see them again. When their first attempt to leave Hungary was defeated by America’s closed-hearted policy towards refugees, particularly Jews, the brothers sadly and dejectedly returned home.

Says my father-in-law, “My mother was so happy, so ecstatic to see us. She cried and cried. When a year later it became possible to try again, my mother didn’t want us to do it. She didn’t want us to leave her. And we, too, didn’t want to leave her. She cried and cried and it was so hard to do.

[My father-in-law and his three brothers, with the help of family in El Paso, Texas, succeeded in getting to Juarez, Mexico, and they became the sole surviving members of their immediate family. Eventually they all became American citizens, served in U.S. Armed Forces, became university educated, married, and raised their families in America. Upon reaching college age, their children began making Aliyah to Israel, and eventually the entire families also made Aliyah. It was in Israel that I met my wife and her family, and from the very beginning I could always feel the weight on my father-in-law from what he had gone through. During the years I would ask him about Hungary and his growing up.

One day several years ago, after he’d retired, we were talking about his family and he was really down. That he had to leave his family and especially that he had to leave his mother and leave her as he did is something he’s never really be able to let go of. In truth, who could? Worse, though, is that he’s often lets it drag himself down when he shouldn’t. This was one of those times, and he and I were going back and forth, he negating everything he’d done in his life as worthless and I trying to find ways to build him up. Finally
] I said to him, “If you could see you parents today and ask them what would they have wanted you to do with your life, what would they say?”

I’d caught him by surprise and he looked at me in startlement. Clearly he’d never asked himself this question. I let the question hang suspended for long moments, and then I answered, “They’d want you to be right where you are: here in Israel. Don’t you understand how much you’ve given your parents in having your family and your children’s families and your grandchildren’s families living today in the Land of Israel?!”

He didn’t really answer me, but from that day onwards he looked at himself (and at me) in different light. (And what even I didn’t realize or think about at that time, but surely my father-in-law did, is that his surviving two brothers and all their children, except one family, had made Aliyah and live in Israel, i.e. his entire family who survived.)

And, now, returning to Chaim, in telling him this story I was able to give him a message that he might never have been able to hear in any other way. The pain of what happened to his own family no one can ever take away, nor should anyone try. Nevertheless, it’s important that Chaim understand that what he has done with his own life, making Aliyah and building his own family in the Land of Israel is the deepest and greatest blessing that he can bestow upon his family and their sacred memory.

Yom HaZicharon (Memorial Day) doesn’t precede Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day); it merges with it. Those who have fallen have given us life and our lives - and we know that this is what they wanted. Our pain is that they are not here to share it with us. Our answer to them has, is, and eternally will be: “we are building and we will continue to build that which you dreamed of, dreamed of so deeply that through us it becomes reality.”

Yom HaAtzmaut isn’t Independence Day like the Independence Day of most of the countries of the world. Yom HaAtzmaut is the beginning of when Jews can finally live the dream, the dream that is part of their creation.

You know, it’s funny. It’s often so difficult to get Jews to even visit Israel, let alone consider the possibility of living here, yet there are so many non-Jews who do. Of course, many come with groups on religious trips, after all we’re the holy land for all - except Islam, but there are many, many single or duos and trios of non-Jews who just come to Israel to visit. The reasons are all the possible reasons (even torching the El Aksa Mosque in 1969 by an evangelical Christian who wanted to hasten the 2nd coming), but plenty who come, as do many who visit, are on their way to converting.

At the end of this past Shabbat, we had company, a woman friend of ours who wanted us and a young man who is visiting Israel to meet. He’s not Jewish. He was born in the Ukraine, went to the States for university, receiving his Ph.D. from M.I.T., and now he teaches mathematics at the Univ. of Michigan in Ann Arbor. When I asked him, “Why’d you’d come; was it because of Keren?” he replied, “A little, but I’d have come anyway.”

We talked...or mostly I talked, and because he’s Ukrainian and because my family’s background is Ukrainian I shared with him what my life’s been; some of how I got from there to here. And I shared some of my writings. Afterwards, Keren Nechama told us that we’d given him a lot to think about, and he hopes to meet with us again before he leaves Israel.

He’s on break now, making his way home to the Ukraine to visit his family, but he had to see Israel. A short visit and a few hours of conversation and hospitality, yet already Israel’s opening up to him.

Where does it come from? Where does the desire for those who have absolutely no reason to even care...why do they come?! And those...those who have all the reason and who should have all the desire...

What do non-Jews see that Jews are so blind to?

In honor and respect,
Daniel Eliezer

*         *         *
What I write doesn't invite comments within the topic, but I do want you to know
that all are welcome to write me should you have any questions or comments.
I can be reached at: d.e.ben.eitan@gmail.com.
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