Educating Our Children On Community, Faith, Love, and Grief – Yom Hazikaron תשפ׳׳ד – Rav Mordechai Burg

One of the most notable differences between Israel and America is how Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) is celebrated. While I have no doubt that many in the United States spend Memorial Day mourning loved ones who were tragically killed in battle, my experience was that Memorial Day was an extended weekend with a strong emphasis on consumer sales. In Israel the country comes to a complete halt. Everyone knows someone who has died defending our country. If in America there are six degrees of separation, in Israel there are maybe two. Yom HaZikaron is a day of real mourning as we remember and celebrate those who gave their lives so that we could live ours. There are no sales, many stores are not open. There are no bbqs and vacations. We are a country that has experienced more than our fair share of loss and on Yom HaZikaron we feel that pain in a very real way.


This year one imagines that Yom HaZikaron will hit differently. While the pain is always enormous, this year it appears to be almost unbearable. Every single one of us was intimately involved. Every one of us knows exactly where we were on Simchas Torah morning. We know all too well the anxious feelings of wondering what comes next. We ran to our safe rooms to take refuge from Hamas rockets. We davened for our soldiers. We knew sleepless nights as we were haunted by the thought of getting that dreaded phone call. We made shiva calls. We cried with brothers who lost loved ones despite the fact that we had never met them before. We were inspired by the heroism of those who gave their lives and by their families who became de facto spokespeople for our people. We took in families that were displaced from their homes. We cooked and baked for our soldiers. We counted down the hours until Iran’s ballistic missiles arrived on our shores and watched as an open miracle unfolded before our eyes. We watched as the volume of anti semitic rhetoric was dialed up to eleven in Chutz La’aretz. We listened as the mainstream media amplified anti semitic talking points and college campuses became places where Jews no longer felt safe. And through it all we had only Hashem and each other. And this year we will mourn together in ways that are unparalleled since the founding of the State. 


To mourn takes faith. It takes faith in Hashem. Faith that when we feel like we are being buried we are actually being planted. Faith that in the end it will be good and if it’s not good it’s not the end. Faith that the end of the story has already been written and it is only us, from our human perspective, who watch the story unfold. If the Greeks gave the world tragedy, the Jews have given the world faith and hope. 


It takes faith in ourselves. Faith that we can manage these impossibly difficult feelings. Faith that we will be ok even when we are not ok. Faith that we are strong and resilient and courageous even when we feel weak and vulnerable and scared. Faith that we can continue to choose life even when life comes to a grinding halt. 


It takes faith in our community. Faith that whatever we go through we go through it together. Faith that despite our differences we will always show up for each other when times are hard. Faith that my pain is your pain and your pain is my pain and together we are enough. Faith that together we will rebuild. 


Grief is beautiful. Grief is unexpressed love. It is all the words and feelings and memories that we so desperately want to share with the only one who can no longer listen. And the deeper the bond, the greater the grief. Grief is the price we pay for the immense beauty of love. To let go of grief is to let go of love itself. It is the paradox of drowning under the waves of grief, feeling like they will never stop coming and at the same time never wanting them to stop. Grief brings life to our attention. It refocuses us as to what is eternal and  important and what is fleeting and trivial. In that way, grief makes us feel strangely alive. Somehow grief both takes the wind out of our sails and puts it in. To live is to grieve and we can no more avoid grief then we can avoid life itself. 


As parents we have a unique opportunity this year to teach our children about community and faith and love and grief. Our instinct is generally to protect our children. Grief is a painful emotion. It forces us to confront loss rather than avoid it. Teaching our children about Yom HaZikaron in the context of this past year will sensitize our children to what it means to be a part of Klal Yisrael. It teaches them that we are strong even when we are in pain. It will allow them to confront their own grief in their personal lives. This is an opportunity to be Mechanech our children. An opportunity that thankfully does not come along that often but when it does we must not let it pass us by. Yes, this Yom HaZikaron hits different but in many ways it is the same as it has always been. We have always been a nation that has confronted darkness with light. This Yom HaZikaron we can teach our children that when the world has chosen death, we will always choose life. 


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