It’s my second Yom HaZikaron as an Israeli, and I’m finding it twice as hard.
It’s because on Monday, I took my first visit in almost 30 years to Har Herzl, where the giants who dreamed of and fought for this country are laid to rest, rows of orderly graves encrusted with rosemary and mint, draped with flags and mementos and tears.
It was visiting the grave of Yosef Goodman z”l, the eldest of 9 who was killed in a training accident in 2006, whose family owns the local pizza shop where his gruff-exterior father chastised us to put our cell phones away on our first day as new olim, but then scrawled a note on an Israeli pizza cardboard for a free pizza and fries, with “Welcome to Israel” written in big letters at the bottom.
It was standing at the grave of Max Steinberg z”l, lone soldier and fellow former Southern Californian, whose shiva I went to a day after aliyah along with thousands of others, where I overheard the hasidic rebbetzins in front of me tell Max’s secular parents, “We’re here to tell you all of Am Yisrael is with you.”
It was being guided on this Har Herzl tour by our friend Yoni, named for Yoni Netanyahu z”l whose grave we stood before, knowing that this Yoni’s own mother Sara Blaustein z”l was murdered in a terrorist attack outside our town in 2001.
It’s also my daughter’s recent visit as part of a class project to talk to Noa Lev about her brave son Captain Hagai Lev z”l who was killed by sniper fire in Gaza in 2002.
It’s losing Ezra Schwartz z”l”, my friend’s nephew on a volunteer mission, and Rav Yakov Don z”l, the teacher at a local boys’ high school, just a week before we celebrated my daughter’s bat mitzvah up the road this past November.
Today, it was crying at the school ceremony as I listened to my daughter’s teacher recount the goodness of her brother Rav Nehemiah Lavi z”l, who heroically rushed from the safety of his home in the Old City to help save lives of a family being attacked, thereby sacrificing his own. It was seeing the face of Yanai Weissman, z”l, my dear cousins’ friend who ran towards danger to protect his family when stabbers entered the supermarket, another ghost among too many since last year’s ceremony.
It was watching my sweet first grader stand in silence, head bowed, at the school tekes when the siren wailed.
And it’s all the times in the past year that we’ve had to look over our shoulder on the streets of Jerusalem or Raanana or Tel Aviv; it’s the chayalim I pass — guns pointed and faces masked — to keep us safe as we go shop for shoes or kale or bourekasim, soldiers who weren’t there when we first moved; it’s the counter-terrorism defensive driving course I forced myself to take where former soldiers shot at my car with paint pellets and water balloons and where I drove over fire so I could be prepared, because: What If.
It was seeing our oldest son in his uniform for the first time just a few weeks ago and watching his little brother pose with him, his big brother’s beret proudly perched on his head as they saluted for the camera.
And perhaps most of all–
It’s that after living here for a second year,
I love it twice as much.