April 25. 2023
“Solemnity and National Mourning”
Today is Yom Hazikaron – Memorial Day: A day on which we mourn all those who have died protecting our state, and all those killed by terrorists seeking to destroy our state.
We honor today the memories of 24,213 soldiers who have fallen since 1860, as well as 4,255 civilians murdered in terrorist attacks. Fifty-nine soldiers were killed in the past year and 86 veterans succumbed to wounds sustained during their military service.
May their memories be a blessing forever and ever. We owe them a debt beyond measure: Without their sacrifices there would be no state today.
The observance is national. A siren sounded for a minute throughout the country last night at 8 pm to initiate the start of a 24-hour period. People were called to stand silently and respectfully for a minute then – and for another minute at 11 am this morning.
Official opening ceremonies followed last night at the Kotel. This morning, there were ceremonies at the 52 military cemeteries in the country, starting with our national military cemetery at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem – as well as at various other venues.
Now families, friends, and comrades-arms are visiting the graves by the tens of thousands. At Har Herzl a small flag has been planted at each grave, and plastic benches are provided for the mourners.
This year Yom Hazikaron falls at a time of painful – very terrible – dissension within the nation. President Isaac Herzog addressed this situation when he spoke last night at the Kotel ceremonies. I am not – to put it mildly – always enthusiastic about his statements, but for this he deserves all credit. He struck exactly the right note (emphasis added):
“The siren that pierced the silence right now, making its way from one end of the land to the next, rattles our souls and makes way for remembrance, which overwhelms us with silence. I ask myself; I ask us: what other country in the world has such a special sound? It is the sound of pain and of hope; of grief and of pride. It is the sound of the State of Israel. A sound that calls on us to pause for a moment, to lock in the sanctity, to remember and to connect—together. This year, in the grips of these days of discord, this sound is more powerful, more searing, more pained and more painful than ever. This year, more than ever before, this sound calls on us, in the heart of the stillness that cries out: all of us, together! Their sacrifice has not been in vain; it shall never have been in vain.
“I appeal to you, my brothers and sisters, citizens of Israel, at this sacred moment, from here, the wall of longing and tears, from which the Divine Presence has never moved, and I ask us to mourn and grieve—together; may we let that feeling of longing envelop us—together. May we let that sound of our collective pain ring loudly on this Memorial Day, free of discord, as we cry for our sons and daughters. As we refuse to find comfort, for they are no more.”
Maybe, I thought last night, maybe this can be the beginning of national healing, forged in a moment of national pain.
But, sadly, this does not seem to be the case, as tensions are apparent today that we have never witnessed before: To each site at which an official ceremony is held, an MK or minister is sent to represent the government. But today in a handful of instances (I believe four), the mourning families at a site requested that the assigned MK or minister not participate. This is simply not as it should be. It is a day of national mourning, in which all should participate in a spirit of unity.
In at least one instance, the issue was political. But in other instances, an individual who was haredi was rejected because he had not served in the IDF. In no instance did the rejected official protest. In all cases, they indicated that they would respect that wishes of the mourners.
As Minister of Public Diplomacy Galit Distel-Atbaryan (Likud) said: “I always said and will say now as well, I bow my head before bereaved families. To me, their request is an order. I will not attend the ceremony. I will not hurt any parent, sibling, or child from the family of bereavement. Never.” A most honorable position.
But I want to share one particular incident, involving Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf (UTJ).
He was slated to participate in a ceremony at a military cemetery in Kiryat Gat but withdrew after some bereaved families protested his planned appearance. This is how he responded:
“I had a strong will to respect the memories of the fallen, to say a chapter of Psalms in their memories, and to say a few words about them and to their dear families,” Goldknopf wrote in a letter.
“But I was notified that along with those bereaved families who wanted my attendance as a representative of the government, there are bereaved families that will be uncomfortable. It isn’t right, but I prefer not to hurt their feelings.
“I’m not interested in acting, G-d forbid as an excuse to disturb such a special and significant day. Therefore, during the ceremony, I will go to the Western Wall and will say Psalms in memory of the fallen and will pray that the Creator will bring peace on us and on all of Israel.”
And that is precisely what he did today. In my opinion, this man is a mensch of the first order.
I will end this posting with a hard look at a most disturbing situation, a situation that exacerbated the tensions in our country.
This week, the Jewish Federations of North America held their General Assembly (GA), some 3,000 delegates strong, in Tel Aviv, ostensibly in honor of Israel’s 75th anniversary. A great majority of these delegates, however, are progressive-left (no surprise) and apparently came to provide support to those in Israel in opposition to the government.
They came with a readiness to participate in anti-government demonstrations, which it is not their place to do. If they do not wish to support the government of Israel, it would be best if they were to stay home.
Prime Minister Netanyahu was scheduled to speak at the GA on Monday evening but cancelled at the last minute. Before he cancelled, the Israeli opposition had announced intention of holding a major demonstration outside the hall where he was to speak, making it difficult for him to get into the hall. As well, they declared they had demonstrators inside the hall who would interrupt the prime minister’s speech.
Two different accusations were then levelled at Netanyahu. One was that he erred badly from a diplomatic perspective, showing disrespect to American Jews who had expected to hear him. And the other, that he showed weakness by caving in the face of the threats of the opposition.
I have a different take. And I suspect that the decision the prime minister made was the correct one.
Rabbi Yehezkel Moskowitz, an American in attendance at the GA, wrote an article, “The Real Busha,” which provided a very disturbing picture. A busha is an embarrassment or something shameful. (Emphasis is added)
“…However, this year’s Congress devolved into chaos as progressives pushed resolutions that were divisive and unrelated to the core objectives of the WZO. Never before had delegates been forced to vote on whether the WZO should condemn the Israeli government in its various platforms, as a result, we lost valuable time and opportunities to address pressing issues facing Israel and the Zionist movement and people like me were forced to act and vote with our conscience.
“The liberal progressive bloc’s insistence on introducing controversial topics and language into the discussions, such as condemnations of the Israeli government for its judicial reform aspirations, is a testament to their inability to set aside their liberal progressive agenda back home for the sake of constructive dialogue. While these topics are undoubtedly important, they were utilized to hijack a Congress focused on promoting the core principles of Zionism.”
Was there any chance, then, that an address to this group by Netanyahu would have been productive? Would they have heard what he had to say? Would they have treated him with respect and considered his positions?
I have no inside information on the reasons for his decision to cancel, but it’s difficult for me to believe that what I have just described was not at least a part of the reason. And if so, I support him.
I am livid with these American progressives looking to interject themselves into our issues. And I suspect that he may be as well.
What do they truly understand about the judicial reform under consideration here? It is being used as a hook upon which to hang an attack on a right-wing government. OUR right-wing government.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.