Last week, I attended MASA’s Yom HaZikaron ceremony (טקס) with some of my Pardes classmates. It had been six years since I had commemorated Israel’s two Memorial Days — for fallen soldiers and victims of terror since the founding of Israel and Holocaust Remembrance Day — in Israel, when I was a participant on March of the Living as a high school student. I don’t remember connecting especially with Yom HaZikaron that year, especially in contrast to Yom HaShoah, whose importance was especially magnified then as I commemorated it by walking from Auschwitz to Auschwitz-Birkenau to mark the march that those imprisoned in Auschwitz were forced to endure.
This year, however, was different. MASA deserves a lot of credit for creating a program that was meaningful for its specific demographic: young North American Jews living in Israel on various short and long-term programs. After getting beyond some of the glitzier moments of the ceremony, the core was devoted to a series of mini-documentaries detailing the lives, and tragic deaths, of a number of IDF soldiers. Most were victims of the Second Lebanon War (hyperlink: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Lebanon_War), and many were American, again to help the audience relate. The stories were raw, made even more so (again, in contrast to my last Israel Yon HaZikaron experience) by the fact that many of them were killed in battle before reaching their 23rd birthdays, which I celebrated a couple months ago. As a seventeen-year-old living in Canada, the notion of going to war and being killed, of knowing friends who were killed, seemed a world away; living in Israel for a year, with friends who are making aliyah and planning to serve in the IDF, changes the picture drastically.
I identify as a pacifist, and see all war as inherently bad (though, at times, war can be justified). Having spent a year in Israel and having the opportunity to commemorate Memorial Days which mean something, my pacifist leanings are only strengthened, as there is nothing like living in a country where every family has been touched by one of the many wars or terrorist attacks that have occurred in this young country to hammer home the notion that war ought to be avoided at all costs.
Also published on MASA’s blog: http://www.masaisrael.org/blog/201205/connecting-and-commemorating-yom-hazikaron