Israel 05.01.17

In Loving Memory: Remembering on Yom Hazikaron

In the summer of 2015 I had the pleasure of leading a group of teenagers to Israel on USY Israel Pilgrimage. The job was one that could only be described as my dream job. For four weeks I got paid to travel to some of my favorite tourist attractions (if you haven’t been to the Olympic Experience Museum, go buy your tickets), eat some of my favorite foods (Marzipan rugelach, thank you for existing), and meet some of the greatest young people I have ever encountered.

As the weeks unfolded, I watched the stages of love evolve across my “pilgrims” faces. From butterflies, to a crush, then a full-blown romance, by end of week one, these kids were hooked on Israel. As I learned with them, asked them hard questions, and stayed up late worrying about their well-being, my love for Israel also grew, evolving to something greater and more important each day.

Then one day, without any warning, the romance came to a halt. We were sitting down to lunch, in the heart of Jerusalem, when my phone rang. It was my boss. “There was an incident,” he said.

That day was the Jerusalem Pride Parade – an event that symbolized the love and depth of the country we were in.  But news of an attack on a young girl marching in the parade shattered the fantasy that’s sometimes easy to live in as tourists.  We shared the news with our group, did our best to help them process the unimaginable, and for the remainder of the trip, carried with us the knowledge of the complexities and the sacrifices that exist in Israel every day.

Three days later we learned that Shira Banki z”l succumbed to her wounds in the hospital.

Last night started the observance of Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. All too often we forget that this day has a longer name than the one we usually use to refer to it: Yom Hazikaron l’Chalalei Ma’arachot Yisrael ul’Nifge’ei Pe’ulot Ha’eivah, Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism. For some American Jews, it’s difficult to really identify with the day.  For many it’s a day to remember lost loved ones and the sacrifices of family and friends in Israel.  For thousands of campers and alumni across North America they are connected to this day through their relationships with the amazing shlichim (Israeli staff) that bring Israel to life at camp every summer.  For some, politics are hard to get past and it is hard to know how to feel.  But for me, Yom Hazikaron is simple, it’s about Shira and about people like her, those who have fallen – soldiers or everyday civilians – who believed in love, and deserved to have a longer love affair with the land of Israel.