On Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, we call to mind our children, our sisters, our brothers, who are no more. 24,213 souls have died in service to the founding and protection of the State of Israel. 4,255 souls were murdered in terror attacks. The costs of Jewish freedom have been far too high. Yom HaZikaron is a day of mourning, a day to remember, a day to renew our dedication to protecting the Jewish People all around the world and our homeland.
The heroes we honor today are not soldiers, but rather ordinary men and women, teachers, doctors, farmers, and artists, who put their lives on the line to defend Israel’s right to exist.
As we mourn their loss, we also remember their courage and their commitments. We honor their memory by continuing to build a society that reflects their values, a society that values human dignity, justice, and equality for all, a society that values and enshrines democracy.
Israeli poetry, from before the birth of the State until this very day has always played a vital role in expressing Jewish collective memory and national identity. The poems of Natan Alterman, for example, capture the spirit of the years before and during the early years of the establishment of the State. His poem “The Silver Platter” (1947) is a powerful tribute to those who gave their lives to defend their people:
“…Dressed in battle gear, dirty, shoes heavy with grime,
they ascend the path quietly, to change garb, to wipe their brow,
they have not yet found time.
Still bone weary from days and from nights in the field,
full of endless fatigue and unrested,
yet the dew of their youth is still seen on their head.
Thus they stand at attention, giving no sign of life or death….”
These words point to the serious struggle for safety and to the fragility of the young lives at risk for the sake of Jewish self-determination, for freedom, for the totality of a Jewish future. On this point, the words of Ahad Ha’am, the great Zionist philosopher, also resonate. He believed that Jewish freedom could only be achieved through a deep commitment to Jewish culture and a love for the Land of Israel. He wrote:
“The renewal of the Jewish people will come only through its own internal forces, through the revival of its ancient language, its customs, its national character and its national spirit.”
These words are as relevant today as they were over a century ago. Israel is more than just a political entity; it is a symbol of Jewish identity and a beacon of hope for our people. It is our duty to protect and preserve it, not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
As we mourn the loss of those who gave their lives for our people, we are also reminded of the urgency of pursuing peace. The words of Naomi Shemer’s song “Al Kol Eleh” capture this spirit of hope and determination:
“For all these things, please guard for me, My God the good,
… all these things, my beloved ones,
the quiet, the tears, and this song.”
Even in the face of tragedy and loss, we must never lose hope. We must remember to sing with hope, a hope that held our hearts high for 2,000 years until the rebirth of our national home, a hope that burns bright as we fight for the health of our home today. We must continue to envision and work towards a better future, a future of peace and security, when no soldier’s life will ever need to be risked.
We honor those who gave their lives for the Jewish people and the State of Israel, those whose lives were cut short by terror. We will never forget their sacrifice and their courage. We renew our commitment to building a just and secure Israel, and to protecting the Jewish people all around the world.
On Yom HaZikaron, we remember them all.