The siren blared Monday at 11:00 a.m., announcing the start of Remembrance Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror here in Israel, a shrill siren that sounds like the real-time warnings too frequently heard throughout the country during enemy attacks. The two-minute blast marked the opening of official memorial ceremonies held at 52 of the military cemeteries throughout the country in commemoration for 25,664 casualties of war and terrorism (23,169 fallen soldiers and 2,495 terror victims) who have fallen in the numerous wars and countless terrorist attacks against Jews.
The siren does not discriminate nor make distinctions between fallen Jews. Every Jew, regardless of denomination, who has been stolen from the world through war or terror is remembered individually and collectively on this solemn day. Similarly, those who hate Jews make no distinction between Jewish blood; in their eyes we are all enemy combatants to be killed whether on battlefields or on buses, whether unobservant chayalim (soldiers) or chareidim, rendering moot the argument on mandatory conscription for ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The impact of losses suffered by the religious community is often overlooked. Two cases in point: On August 19, 2003, a Hamas suicide bomber disguised himself as a chareidi Jew and detonated himself on the Egged No. 2 bus traveling through Jerusalem’s Shmuel HaNavi neighborhood. The double-length bus was crowded with chareidi families returning from davening at the Kosel. The huge explosion killed 7 children and 16 adults and maimed more than 130 people.
The Passover massacre was a suicide bombing carried out by Hamas at the Park Hotel in Netanya, Israel, on March 27, 2002, targeting Jews attending a Seder. Thirty Jews were killed in the attack, many of whom were elderly and Holocaust survivors; in addition, 140 were injured. It was the deadliest attack against Israelis during the Second Intifada and the catalyst to Israel launching the large-scale counter-terrorism initiative Operation Defensive Shield in Yehudah and Shomron the next day. During the battles of Operation Defensive Shield, the same number of soldiers, 30, perished, as were victims of the Passover massacre. The tragic symmetry of loss suffered by soldiers and civilians could not be more obvious than in this case.
It is crucial to recognize the contributions of chareidim in the battle against the enemies of Israel. Chareidim have suffered both as victims of terror and as fighters who fell in battle, most famously during the siege of Yerushalayim in the War of Independence.
The role of chareidim has not been limited to that of victim. They have made great contemporary contributions as first responders as the intrepid members of Hatzolah and Zaka, who fearlessly attend to scrupulously maintaining mitzvos and halachos in the most challenging moments. Another example is the generosity of Yad Sarah, which lends medical and rehabilitative equipment throughout Israel and will donate its services, providing free van transport to take the disabled and elderly to ceremonies commemorating Remembrance Day for the Fallen and Victims of Terrorism.
The Hebrew Hamodia editorial imploring chareidim to stop and remain silent if in a public place was a forthright and welcome plea for achdus among Jews. The commemorations are not traditional by Jewish standards; the consideration to the fragile feelings of those who have suffered loss is all the more significant. I have no doubt that the chareidim who stopped and said a kapitel Tehillim made a great Kiddush Hashem and were ambassadors for the world of Torah.
As for my own feelings and perceptions, it is difficult for me to know how to engage days like Holocaust Remembrance Day or Remembrance Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror. My immediate family lost no one in the Holocaust, war, or to terror, and as such I have no particular yahrtzeit to honor, no Kaddish to say. Yet my greater family lost much: 6 million of my extended family killed in the Shoah, and another 25,664 to war and to terror. These days help focus my thoughts, as I am sure they do for others in Israel and around the world. It is good that there is a day for a special reckoning of the immense price the Jewish people has paid.
As for the reason Remembrance Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror is on 4 Iyar: It is because that is the day that the Etzion Bloc fell in Israel’s War of Independence. The bloc was comprised of four settlements in total, three of which were religious. The bloc suffered enormous casualties, with 240 residents and fighters killed in battle. The Knesset would honor the fighters of the Etzion Bloc by subsequently commemorating the date of its fall as Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers.
My family and I made aliyah to Alon Shvut in the heart of Gush Etzion (Etzion Bloc) three years ago, unaware of the sacrifices made by the Jews of this special area 66 years ago. We endeavor to honor their memories through raising a Torah family here. I guess I do have a direct connection to the day after all.
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion Israel with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at msolomon@Hamodia.com