This week the army took us to Mt. Herzl , Israel’s military cemetery. This is where all of Israel’s soldiers are buried, as well as Israel’s government ministers and leaders. I visited Mt. Herzl once before, as a tourist. When I walked these hallowed grounds as a tourist I saw only the building blocks of a nation, the builders of the nation, and the sacrifices for those vital blocks. This time, I didn’t see it all as building blocks and builders, because this time I walked alongside the graves in my uniform. All I saw was young men, and women.
As a tourist I didn’t notice the ages of those poor lads, forever in the ground. As a soldier, the first thing I noticed was their ages…18…19…18…18..19…A different feeling washed over me. I’m in a soldier’s graveyard. During my time in the army I was told about the military operations of many of these lads, and now, I met them.
As far as my uniform is concerned “I walk in the valley of the shadow of death.”
Then we went to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Museum. I was here once before too, as a tourist. However, this time I walked its depressing halls as a soldier. And again, a totally different set of thoughts and emotions washed over me. Here I was, a defender of the Jewish people, helpless in the face of history. How proud I thought I’d be, walking out of those sacred places as a soldier of the Israel Defense Forces. Yet, I was nothing but all the more guilty. I was not there to do my duty then, and now Europe too is nothing but a graveyard for my people.
As a soldier, I wondered, how could German soldiers do what they did? Much of the cruelty they displayed for posterity was of their own volition, not an order. What about honor and personal ethical positions? As an Israeli soldier, these are things that come to my mind first and foremost before any action.
I think it is critical that everyone visit Yad Vashem from time to time, as every time a different set of thoughts and emotions come to us with each visit for we ourselves change over time. A different set of ideas about humanity rise up in our minds.
We don’t spend enough time thinking about humanity.
I remember when I glanced upon the view of Jerusalem from Yad Vashem, as a tourist. How positive I felt, how saved I was by the fact of Jewish statehood, “life went on”, and existence. This time, as a soldier, even this beautiful view offered me only more burdensome thought. What will be in the future with the Jewish people? Here they are, living peacefully in their homes, and so many questions still to deal with. So many enemies still to deal with. All at the same time. Its not in the history books, and I’m no longer reading any books. Now I write, now history will be about us.
I will have to return to Mt. Herzl and Yad Vashem once again. To Mt. Herzl so I can place a stone on Zeev Jabotinsky’s grave. Something I forgot to do thus far. And to Yad Vashem so I can walk the halls again, next time with my gun and perhaps then I’ll be proud in the face of history, as I did not have my gun on my shoulders this time. Something tells me, gun or not, I will fail yet again.
I guess sometimes failure is better than success.
The week before this, my parents came to visit me! It was a very happy time, and I’m sure they were more tired by the time they had to fly home than when they arrived. Ironically, I felt more like a Chayal Boded when they left than I ever did before.
It’s a good thing the army lets its soldiers go home from time to time, a lot of healing takes place when we walk through the country we give up so much for. We come back to base with the mental pictures of the things we saw, a simple garden that is sprinkled with water at night, a funny looking dog owner walking their dog…its not some idea we defend its these people.
They are real, and they wont be found in any new Yad Vashem. Mt. Herzl guarantees it.
“The dream of my life has risen to become fact. Self-defense in the ghetto will have been a reality. Jewish armed resistance and revenge are facts. I have been a witness to the magnificent, heroic fighting of Jewish men in battle.” – Mordechai Anielewicz. Commander of the Jewish revolt in the Warsaw Ghetto.