“Farewell. I Lived Among You, As a Wildflower”
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Li-or Gersht, our community shlicha (Israeli emissary), shares a personal reflection on what Yom Hazikaron (Israel's Memorial Day) means to her:
Did you know? If you walk into a military cemetery in Israel, you will notice that all tombstones look identical except for one thing: Each family can add one sentence to their loved one’s grave. My family chose a sentence from an Israeli song that describes my cousin, May, perfectly. “Farewell. I lived among you, as a wildflower.”
May was only one year younger than me so she and I grew up together. We used to sleep over at my grandma’s house a lot and meet for shakshuka at my uncle’s house almost every Saturday morning. Unfortunately, at some point our families had a falling out and we drifted apart. As a kid, I didn’t really understand what happened, but I was also grieving over the loss of my father at a young age so I never really addressed it. The years passed and May and I talked occasionally but we never really went back to what we had as kids. I always thought “I’ll have time to re-connect with her as I should, just not right now because I have this or that…”
When I was 20 years old, I was an officer in the Israeli Intelligence, and May, 19 years old, was a soldier as well. One morning, during Sukkot, I was in my office when my mom called me to let me know that May was gone. May decided to take her own life. May was declared a “fallen soldier” and she had a military funeral. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has chosen to designate soldiers that have taken their own lives as “fallen soldiers” because even though they didn’t lose their life in a war or to a terrorist, these soldiers have succumbed to the weight on their shoulders and the IDF is honoring their death – along with their life – and service to the country.
May never left a note or anything to help explain her actions and I was left with this feeling of “what if?” What if I wouldn’t have waited for the ‘right time’ and would have talked with her more often? Would that have changed her decision? But I know that May was a free bird. She was a wildflower – the kind that would keep floating even if you didn’t notice. I didn’t notice.
Every year since May died, I wore my uniform and visited her grave on Yom Hazikaron for the special ceremony for fallen soldiers. Each year, I saw another family standing next to their child’s fresh grave. Every year, my aunt used to look at me wearing that IDF officer uniform and say, “how different are the paths that you and May chose?”
Being an officer obligates me to salute while the one-minute siren sounds and for the Israeli national anthem, Hatikva. It was hard for me to stand straight next to May’s grave and salute for the duration of the siren when everyone around me is crying. It’s hard, but I understand I’m saluting May and the rest of the kids that are buried next to her, letting them know we’re here, remembering them and their lives, and honoring the struggles they dealt with, the war they were fighting – across the border and in their minds.
Last year was the first time I did not stand next to May because I was here in Cleveland, commemorating her and other friends that I lost during the Yom Hazikaron community ceremony and with Ratzim Lezichram ("Running in their Memory"). This year no one will be standing next to May, or any other soldier’s grave for that matter. This year we are forced to remember and salute our loved ones from our own homes. It breaks my heart to think that they are there, all alone, not knowing why no one is visiting them, why no one is standing next to them during the siren. This year will be different, for sure. But it does not mean that we forget them or the battles they fought. It does not mean we won’t be saluting them, like we do every single day.
This year we have to stay home so we can be there healthy and safe next year and the year after that. This year I will be honoring their memory from here, through the project Ratzim Lezichram ("Running in their Memory") on April 28, but a bit differently – we will be honoring them by doing a walk/run/bike individually while wearing bibs that carry the names of a fallen soldier. Then we will meet virtually to share our experience and to meet with a bereaved family from Israel for an intimate conversation. And, on April 27, our community will hold a virtual Yom Hazikaron ceremony. I hope that you choose to join us for one or both of these events.
As we are going through a rough time in our own homes, this is an opportunity for us to get together as a community and to strengthen each other, while remembering and honoring my personal loved ones and all the heroes that have lost their lives while serving and building the State of Israel.
May their memories be for a blessing.