Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Israel's Yom Hazikaron Contrasted to America's Memorial Day

Today is Yom Hazikaron, Israel's memorial day, and it has me looking back to December 2002 when I had the opportunity to meet some new friends at the Dead Sea, where my wife and I spent a couple of days relaxing at the end of our vacation in London and Israel. There were hundreds of men at our hotel who became severely disabled while fighting for Israel’s continued existence. They risked their lives in protecting our Jewish homeland.

Yom Hazikaron - Israel Memorial Day

They are known as N’chei Tzahal – the disabled veterans of the IDF. Some could barely walk anymore, even with the aid of a cane or a walker. Others are amputees, missing an arm or a leg, and bound to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. Others still, were not injured while on active duty, but rather suffered life-long disabilities from a terrorist explosion while waiting at a bus stop just trying to get back to the base after a weekend off. They were at the Dead Sea to find some temporary relief from their disabling pain through the therapeutic powers of the Dead Sea.

The N’chei Tzahal come each year for two or three weeks, and most of the hotels are very accommodating to their needs, displaying a level of handicapped accessibility that is unmatched anywhere in the world. The Israeli Government pays for their much-deserved vacation, but if it is not taken by the end of the year, the opportunity is lost. Thus, many of them make their vacation to the Dead Sea at the end of every December; making the Dead Sea, in essence, the unofficial convention and reunion of Israel’s disabled veterans.

Mostly men, the N’chei Tzahal range in age and represent each of Israel’s many wars, some having served in as many as three. I met men who fought for Israel’s statehood in 1947, as well a young man on crutches, disabled during the current Intifada. I spent an hour talking about politics and religion with a couple of veterans who were on the beach with their wives. One of these men, whose foot was blown off by a land mine in the Sinai Desert in 1956, explained that he and his wife had been coming to the Dead Sea for three decades and it is the only time he feels any relief from his injuries. When I remarked to the other veteran how nice it is that the Israeli government provides them with a complimentary vacation for a couple of weeks, he looked me in the eyes, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “Trust me, we paid for it.”

Here in America, we should take Israel’s example to heart for how to honor our veterans. In America, Memorial Day does not have the significance that Yom Hazikaron has in Israel. Here in America, Memorial Day is a day for barbecuing, picnics, swimming and boating. It’s a day off from school and work, not a day to pay homage to our veterans. A few years ago I had the honor to officiate at a Jewish War Veterans service at a Jewish cemetery on Memorial Day. I appreciated the solemnity of the event, but it caused me to think about how most people spend their Memorial Day -- not at a memorial park with flags, but at an actual park with Frisbees.

Our U.S. soldiers who died while serving our country deserve our respect. Let all Americans use Israel's Yom Hazikaron as a way to bring more meaning into America's Memorial Day. We owe it to those who served our country. It is our responsibility.

On this Yom Hazikaron, I pay tribute to all those who lost their life while protecting the Jewish State of Israel. May their memories be for blessings.

1 comment:

Rachel,Kapen said...

I remember how an Israeli friend of mine who lost her husband in the Yom KippurnEar of 1973 cringed when hearing havea happyMemorial Day. In Istael Yom HaZikaron is very personal, there is hardly,a family not affected by Israel's wars for survival. I usually wish my friends to have a meaningful Memorial Day