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Central Synagogue chazan Rabbi Yehuda Niasoff at last week’s Yom Hazikaron service. Photo: Nadine Saacks
Central Synagogue chazan Rabbi Yehuda Niasoff at last week’s Yom Hazikaron service. Photo: Nadine Saacks

A FEW years ago on the eve of the festival of Succot I read a beautiful and moving piece online, writes Naomi Balkin.

It described the army bases scattered around the State of Israel, each one with its own succah erected on the base. The writer went on to explain that while each succah that is built is essentially a flimsy and unstable structure, vulnerable to the elements, it is the soldiers – the chayalim and chayalot – who stay on these army bases who give each succah its strength and stability. It is those soldiers who cannot go home to their families for the festival, who protect the State of Israel that are the foundation of the succah.

Obviously, this analogy is valid for every day, every festival and every Shabbat that an Israeli soldier is serving to protect our homeland and ultimately every Jew in Israel and in the Diaspora.

This brings me to the point I would like to make.

Once a year, on Yom Hazikaron, the citizens of Israel and Jews around the world stop to remember and commemorate those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the State of Israel. Those who can never go home to their families – sons, daughters, spouses, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. Friends.

These fallen soldiers, victims of terror and their families pay the ultimate price so that we can live with the knowledge that the State of Israel exists for all Jews should they need or desire to live there. Jews around the world, even in the “friendliest” of countries, live comfortable and secure lives as Jews precisely because of the sacrifice made by those Jews living in and fighting for the State of Israel.

Last Tuesday night our Sydney community marked Yom Hazikaron at the remembrance ceremony organised by the Zionist Council of NSW (ZCNSW). I was once again shocked and saddened to see the relatively poor turnout of people to this important annual event.

While, as always, there were representatives of the Zionist youth movements in attendance, the absence of school students was very obvious – even those in years 10 and 11 who will or have had the privilege of visiting Israel on a Y2I (Youth to Israel) subsidised program were substantially absent. One would think that there would be some obligation on the part of these students to attend the Yom Hazikaron ceremony or that the program and experience itself would instil a desire for the students to attend.

I was even more appalled by the attendance of a very small number of communal leaders, presidents or representatives of Zionist and other Jewish communal organisations. These are the same organisations and leaders who ask us for donations every year to support their causes in Israel or for the cause of Jewish “continuity” in Australia. This lack of attendance was even more disappointing this year given the bombardment of missiles into Israel over the preceding 48 hours, killing four innocent civilians.

Most of these same communal leaders will attend the annual Yom Hashoah commemoration as do a large number of members, both young and old, of our community. This is as it should be.

Members of our Jewish community are increasingly participating in Anzac Day dawn services and commemorations, encouraged by the Jewish community leadership and schools to do so. This is also as it should be.

Then why do our community leaders, representatives and educators not place the same importance on Yom Hazikaron as they do on Yom Hashoah or Anzac Day? Why do they fail to set an example for the younger generation of our community? Why do they fail to show their respect and support for the families of the fallen and for the State of Israel on this solemn and devastating day?

Whether you consider yourself a “Jewish Australian” or an “Australian Jew”, bear in mind that we live in Australia as proud Jews not just because we came here as Holocaust refugees or survivors; not just because we have made a success of our lives here and built wonderful and vibrant communities; not even because Australia has afforded us incredible opportunities and freedoms.

We live in Australia (and in many other Diaspora communities) as proud Jews because of the existence of the State of Israel and the protection it affords us. This protection should never be taken for granted and the lives of those who protect us should always be remembered, commemorated and honoured by us all.

Naomi Balkin is a lifelong member of the Sydney Jewish community. Her husband is the president of the ZCNSW.