Memorial Day


Four years ago, my son Naftali was murdered by Palestinian terrorists. [1]

Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Terror Victims) was initiated in recognition of terror being an integral part of the ongoing war against Israel’s very existence. 

Nevertheless, my own Yom HaZikaron has hardly changed since the murder.

Sure, life has changed. Every day of it… but Yom HaZikaron has hardly changed at all.

It did not suddenly become mine. Because it always was mine. I always knew Yom HaZikaron was mine; ours, the closest thing to a sacred day a secular calendar can produce.

Why? Because my parents made Aliyah before I was born, and I had the privilege of growing up in Israel.

This day of remembrance was never meant to be a tribute to or a time for the bereaved families. We never felt it was commemorating someone else’s loss.

In Israel, Memorial Day is the time we congregate around the loss we all experience.

You don’t have to lose a loved one to feel that this date is part of your personal and family calendar. We are a small society, and everyone knows a fallen soldier, a terror victim or a bereaved family.

Everyone knows it could have been them or their loved ones…

Year after year, a diverse and oft-divided Israeli society stands in solidarity around the shared memory of the price we pay for the right to exist.

Yet our culture is not one of martyrdom. We will always cherish and celebrate life rather than death. And when we remember, we remember in totality, in depth, and in context – a few days after Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day); a few moments before the joy of independence. 

Educator Avraham Infeld says, “Jews have no history. They have a memory.” History is the collection of facts, a volume on a shelf. Memory is an experience, an identity – constantly alive, forming, and being formed.

When we are commanded to remember the Exodus from Egypt, we do so through dozens of practical mitzvot (commandments) – actions or thoughts that shape our memory, which in turn creates our consciousness, which then reshapes our actions, and builds our society.

Our memory is a living memory.

A memory that builds life.

And when we gather to honor the names and faces we have known, it is not a macabre memorial or an addiction to pain. Our collective mission is to assure that life in Israel will be better. In their merit, the memory of their love will be embedded in our caring for others; their passions will live through our sincere but also loving and respectful disputes.

Their sacrifice brings us closer together. Their memory shapes our life.

Jews everywhere connect to the pulse of the State of Israel through the news, through prayers, through the Jewish calendar. We all join to celebrate the miracle of independence, but just moments beforehand, we stand together, united in awe and reflection, remembering the price, the promise… and how precious the mission is that still lies ahead.

[1] Naftali Fraenkel was kidnapped and murdered together with Gilad Shear and Eyal Yifrach.


Rabbanit Rachelle Fraenkel teaches Torah at midrashot in Israel.

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