Distinguished guests, my brothers and sisters in the families of the bereaved,
Yesterday at the Yad Labanim memorial ceremony held here in Jerusalem, I heard the remarks of a bereaved mother named Idit Shema, who spoke of her inability to explain the depth of her pain to anyone who had not experienced such grief. I told her, “Idit, it may very well be that you are correct, that it is very difficult and perhaps impossible for anyone who has not experienced such grief firsthand to fully internalize the meaning of grief, the magnitude of the grief we experience, the tremendous shock that gripped us, the sense of loss, of missed opportunities, that fills us”.
On that same terrible day when the graves of our loved ones gaped open in front of us, there we sat, there we wept remembering our sons and brothers who fell for Zion. We feel the grief of the widows, of the orphans, of the siblings, and there is no pain worse than that of parents who learn of their children’s death. The blow when they hear the bitter news, like the cutting of flesh, cuts mercilessly into their consciousness, it shatters routine and it does not let up, day or night. It is endless suffering.
I saw this firsthand when my parents were thrown in the dark pit of grief after my eldest brother fell. It is a deep pit with slick walls, difficult to climb out of, and in a certain sense they never climbed out of it. However, one can deal with the grief, go on, reintegrate into the flow of life, one can create and build and contribute and strengthen others, but never forgetting, always remembering – but also taking comfort in knowing that our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers, all gave their lives to build our country and aid its survival.
The fallen came from every part of the country, from every sector of the population, from every walk of life – Jews and non-Jews, Druze, Christians, Bedouin, Circassian – and all Israel’s citizens appreciate their sacrifice which allows us to live here, to live in an independent country that is so proud of its citizens, in a country that is a national home for our people.
It is true that in generations before the establishment of the state, in the years of exile, our blood spilt in a tremendous wave, but the horrific pain then was often boundless, without purpose and almost always without a response, whereas here in Israel, the cure for this pain is understanding its purpose.
One mother, a Holocaust survivor who lost all her relatives to the crematoria, told me, “My son fell wearing a uniform, holding a weapon in defense of Israel”. Another woman told me, “My brother fell as an officer on a tank turret and was not led like a lamb to slaughter”. And indeed, the enormity of the change that took place in our people’s fate with the establishment of a military defense force in our country is clearer today than ever.
A short distance from here, several hundred kilometers north of Jerusalem, a horrible massacre is taking place, slaughter is taking place on a daily basis, and has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people who do not have the power to defend themselves. Does anyone have any doubt that this would have been our fate as well if it were not for the strength of the IDF and the courage of our fighters?
The IDF and the security forces are the only thing that differentiates the slaughter of our people in the past from our current situation. Israel is a strong country, a secure country that can defend itself against any threat and any harm. However, this security was bought at a cost too heavy to bear, with the loss of our loved ones. I said there is no greater pain than losing a son or daughter, but there is – when two children fall. This further blow, after you are certain the worst had already happened, doubles and triples the magnitude of the grief. It is inconceivable, but apparently it too can be dealt with.
Tonight, when the Independent Day celebrations begin, Miriam Peretz, a noble and courageous woman, will stand on this mountain and light a torch in honor of the State of Israel. Her two sons, Uriel and Eliraz, may their memories be blessed, both IDF officers, fell in defense of their homeland. Miriam is a symbol of the bravery of the people of Israel. She illuminates the world through her good works, by strengthening the other, by empowering the spirit. She and others like her, at all levels of society, spread light and hope. Where the darkness seems infinite, their giving is infinite.
“For there is hope for a tree: if it is felled it can still renew itself, and its branching will not cease”, it says in the Book of Job. Who knows better than I that there is no absolute cure for loss and pain: We know that this hole can never be filled, but despite this we find new strength within, and there is strength from without, from the embrace the entire nation gives us and our families, the family of bereavement, today and on others days.
On the Day of Remembrance and on Independence Day which follows, we feel part of one family, all of us together. At these moments the significance of the magnitude of the accomplishment in establishing the State of Israel, building and developing it, becomes clear. We all have the privilege to live in dedication to our country, something that previous generations could only dream of or perhaps simply imagine: An Israel that is democratic, free, advanced, vibrant and strong, an Israel that is a moral beacon, a country that desires peace, which successfully deals with the unceasing threats against its security, determined to withstand any test.
We once sang, “Here in the land yearned for by generations, all our hopes will be realized”. My friends, they are being realized: Thanks to the citizens of Israel, thanks to its fighters, thanks to those who have fallen, those who loved their country, defenders of their land, whose deaths allowed us to live and to renew our freedom.
On this day, with heads lowered but not bowed, with deep pain and pride, we all salute the fallen of Israel’s security forces, our brothers and sisters, heroes all.
May their memories be forever cherished.