One of the granddaughters, Moran, is an instructor for pilots of drones. Now she is becoming an officer, and we were attending a ceremony marking the conclusion of the officers' course.
700 young people in the ceremony. Thousands of their family members, friends, and fellow soldiers. Sabras, olim, Ashkenazi, Sephardim, black, white, Druze, Christian, Jew.
As I looked around at the soon-to-be officers, and at all of the other soldiers attending, I kept thinking: These kids are so young looking; these officers and commanders, who will make life and death decisions for their fellow soldiers and for all of us; these leaders, many of whom will put their own lives in danger, are kids. In the U.S., they would be juniors or seniors in college. They would be studying for exams, thinking about grad school or careers, planning next weekend's escapades.
It was a joyous, hopeful, fun day. In Israeli style, it was not solemn. The crowd clapped in unison to the marching band. After the ceremonies, the tables went up, the blankets went down, and, of course, the food came out. Atara, Moran's mother, had brought enough. . . .well, for an army. Food for the family. Food for us. Food for Moran's friends. Food for soldiers they did not know, but who were alone and who ate and smiled in appreciation. Food to take home.
Back to Jerusalem and a Thursday morning Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel. The grandson of friends from the U.S. The family chose to mark the milestone in Israel. Hundreds of other Bar Mitzvahs occurring at the same time. Visitors, sabras, olim, Ashkenazi, Sephardim, black, white, you name it. Smiling sabas and saftas. Mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, old ladies with deep wrinkles, throwing candies and singing cries of joy--ululation (In Hebrew, "tsahalulim").
Millions more would have experienced these simchas (happy events) but for the Shoah we marked less than a week ago. I could not help thinking what would have been had we had a country 75 years ago.
Last night (Sunday night): Yom Hazikaron. Israel's Remembrance Day. It's tough, and it’s personal. We attended an English language ceremony at Ammunition Hill put on by the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin. Ammunition Hill was the site of a crucial, deadly 1967 battle that opened the way for Israel's recapture of the Old City. The Lone Soldier Center is an organization that provides support and some of the basics to the thousands of young people who come to Israel without family to volunteer in the IDF.
Some serve and go back home. Some stay in their homeland. None need to come. They leave good colleges, scholarships, good jobs. They are drawn to serve and to defend the Jewish homeland.
The ceremony was beautiful. The speeches were heart wrenching and inspiring: The sister of Michael Levin, the young American for whom the Center is named and who envisioned a place where lone soldiers might receive some of the support that a family provides. In 2006, at the start of the Second Lebanon War, he rushed back from Pennsylvania, where he was visiting his family on leave, to join his Paratroopers Brigade. He was killed in the first round of fighting.
The memories were personal, sometimes raw, sometimes difficult, inspiring, and, at the end, hopeful.
Today, Remembrance Day, is a regular business day. Except it is anything but regular. As I drove to a physical therapy appointment, memorial music playing on my radio and on the radios of the cars next to me at the stoplight, flags fluttering from cars and from light posts, barriers being erected for ceremonies, I noticed lines of cars, police men and women directing traffic. Hundreds, maybe thousands of cars, lined up in special lanes.