The series of memorial days caught me off-guard this year. Off-guard and thinking, which is always dangerous when observing the status quo because one is bound to find stains in the pristine public consciousness. And the stains I found aren’t in commemoration, an art we have rightfully mastered. A soldier or innocent citizen who has lost their lives in order for me to be a free human deserves all the gratitude in the world.
The things is, we aren’t actually grateful for the freedom we have been given at the expense of millions of souls (in the Holocaust) or at the cost of thousands of war and terror casualties. We stand silent during the siren, because that’s how it’s done, putting on a solemn mask for sixty seconds of forged reverence. A moment after the siren ends we go back to blaring car horns on the roads, forgetting that our mere existence isn’t a given. Forgetting that we are damn lucky to be walking this planet, not by birthright but thanks to grit. Forgetting that while we sleep, horrors continue to ensue and causalities join the global collection of souls that could have lived beside us if only…
If only we opened our eyes. If only we opened our mouths. If only we raised our voice.
I never got the opportunity to meet my Grandpa. They say he was a kind-hearted man who was always giving to others. I imagine him like an all-powerful superhero, walking around town smiling at everyone and helping. I imagine people smiling back at the sight of him… I never got to meet my Grandpa, because his life ended when a terrorist swerved bus no. 405 off the cliff on the way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I never got to meet my Grandpa but I’ve always felt a strange closeness to him. Now I begin to understand that it’s his legacy that connects us. A bridge between time and space: and thou shalt loved (ואהבת ve-hahavta).
Pausing the race once a year for a minute long siren is not only insufficiently respectful of the deceased. It is mostly disrespectful of us, the living in freedom taken for granted, too busy to notice anyone but our selves. In the words of Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel ‘Each of us live and die alone’.
My Grandpa never got to meet me, but I hope that when he watches over from above he sees his legacy alive and kicking. Because as humans who have received life as a gift, our sole responsibility is to live not only in gratitude and not only on remembrance days. Our sole responsibility is to celebrate the live we’ve received in kindness and harmony. Our sole responsibility is to share our gift with all other humans, because it’s simply not ours… My Grandpa didn’t die so that I’ll continue living comfortably ‘until the next war’, say thank you that it spared me (or not), and continue on with my routine struggles.
It’s too easy to confuse indifference with helplessness. But if for a moment we’d be willing to feel a little less comfortable in our skin, we’d be able to see clearly that there is much work to be done. It begins at home, in South Tel Aviv, with refugees who fled their war stricken countries just like our great-grandparents did less than a century ago. It continues with our Palestinian neighbors and it doesn’t stop there. Small and big Holocausts happen every day, sometimes so many that it’s easier to shut our eyes and close the curtains.
We are all guilty of indifference. And it’s the same indifference that allowed millions of people to be exterminated. The same indifference that allows refugee children to die in overpopulated daycares in South Tel Aviv. The same indifference that allows children to die in Gaza. The same indifference that allows people to starve in Africa and East Asia.
So this coming memorial day I pledge to pause the race for a while longer, to quit the indifference and do one small act of kindness in the memory of my Grandfather that might get us an inch closer towards peace. Not out of guilt feelings, but out of a very real love for this life and a strong belief that this world can be better if we only open our eyes, lift our heads up, and look each other in the eyes.