Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) in Beit HaLochem (Fighter's House)

 Last night for the first time I spent Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for Israel's Fallen Soldiers and Terror Victims) in a place of soldiers. Every year I have been an audience member at a community program. I sat among fellow residents, regular folks. This year I sat with soldiers, veterans, wounded soldiers, family of fallen soldiers. The atmosphere was totally different. It wasn't a "program", an "event". It was their lives. 
Beit HaLochem is the House of the Fighters. It is a place for soldiers and their families in good times and bad. It is a place of therapy and encouragement. There's a pool with family swim and hydrotherapy; there are chugim (clubs) for children and for veterans in art/music/whatever therapy of all kinds. 
There are also events and sports tailored to soldiers and disabled soldiers, like wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis. In Beit lochem everyone is a mensch (a worthy person) - the man in the wheelchair, the woman with the burnt face, the twenty-year-old with the nerve twitch, everyone is a mensch. No one is pitied. No one stares. Everyone is accepted as s/he is. 
We received a special invitation to Beit HaLochem because my son, an injured soldier, represented the other disabled soldiers and spoke at the ceremony. We were told that children were not invited. (B"H, we did not bring children. It would have been too difficult an evening for them.) The MC began the event, "Parents, children, widows, orphans..." This is how a ceremony begins? I had never heard anything like that before. He spoke quietly to the audience, "How can we remember your loved ones? We will try." It was an evening of remembering and comfort. 
There was no need to talk about soldiers giving their lives for the country. There was no need to talk about battles or terror. The people in this room knew about all these things first hand, and didn't need to be reminded. The evening was a giant hug from one person to another, a big shoulder for each person to cry on. 
Someone sang, "My love, I am always with you. Don't cry because of me. I am here." Another read a poem, "The names come to us as they walk in row after row of angels from the desert, from the valleys, from burning tanks and a silent bullet. And Hashem sees the angels and says, 'these are my sons'." 
Beit HaLochem showed a power point with 20 minutes of names, photos and descriptions of fallen soldiers. The when/where/how they fell was shown small on the bottom of each slide. But written larger, there were personal words: he never went home for Shabbat without bringing flowers to his mother...he loved learning...a physics genius...Scouts counselor...always volunteering...fantastic sense of humor...loved by everyone. These are the things that count, and these descriptions were alongside the photos of soldiers who fell in battle or in terror attacks from 1948 to the present. No one moved. Not a sound could be heard but the gentle sniffling in the darkness. Everyone in the Israel Defense Forces Family was represented - the parent who lost a son, the widow, the injured soldier - each read words about other fathers, other widows, other soldiers. 
Idan Amedi, a star discovered on TV's Kochav Nolad, performed with a full heart. Idan is an IDF commander, whose song, "Ke'ev shel Lochamim" (the Pain of Soldiers), became a tremendous hit everywhere in Israel. All those on stage and in the audience were veteran soldiers or the family of soldiers. The evening in Beit HaLochem wasn't a Yom HaZikaron event. It was the essence of Yom HaZikaron in the soul. 
To peek into last night's event:

As we exited Beit HaLochem, I noticed a glass inscription. It is the character of Israel always to pray for peace, even in a Beit HaLochem (House of Fighters). 
"Nation shall not life up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." (Micha, 4:3)

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