A Face to Remember

By Michael Vainberg, Netzer Year Director

This week on Yom Hazikaron, Israel wept. We shed tears of sadness remembering the 22,993 Israelis who died while serving our country as soldiers and as civilians. Israel also shed tears of joy celebrating Israelis 64th birthday. It doesn’t really matter if you are politically right or left or center, if you agree with the government’s actions or not, if you think that the settlers are doing a heroic job or if we should not have settlers, if the army should protect the settlers or not… the fact remains that it is children who are in the army, and too many Israels have died. Israelis who, at the age of 18, instead of going on a gap year  are asked to serve and protect and enlist in a three year program in what I think is Israel’s biggest Youth Movement: the Israeli Defense Forces.

Growing up in Venezuela and going to a Jewish school, we would have more than one ceremony for the fallen soldiers: one at school, one at the Jewish Federation building, one with the youth movement, and we would also say a prayer the Friday of that  week at  synagogue. Our hearts would ache when we would hear the news of a bomb exploding in Israel, and we believed we were feeling the same pain that the Israelis were felling. However something was missing, and I did not quite know what it was until I actually made Alyah in 1997.

I enlisted in the army in February 2000. When I called my father to tell him, “here I am looking over the Lebanese border,” it dawned on him for the first time that one of those Israeli soldiers not only had a face but it was the face of his own son. This is what was missing all time during those ceremonies; we thought we had solidarity with the Israeli soldiers, but we had never met one, there really was no face to remember.

My father, being the Rabbi for the Venezuelan community, had to officiate at many funerals, and I remember as a small child always wanting to go where my father went, even to these funerals. He always said that a funeral is no place for a child. Boy, did I sure make up for that in the army.

I started my basic training in March 2000 for a tank battalion, and not one month went by when one of the soldiers in our platoon committed suicide. I lost six more friends in a matter of a month. A group of terrorists opened fire on a bus, and as three of my friends hopped on a tank to set out to help those civilians, they drove over a bomb placed by those terrorist prior to their attack on the bus. We woke up a month later and started getting ready to go the shloshim for those three friends when the same thing happened all over again. We had to attend three more funerals on our way to shloshim.

This past Tuesday, on Netzer’s Yom Tnua (Movement Day), we tried hard to give the shnatties a sense of feeling of what Yom Hazikaron here in Israel. We finished the day by going to a ceremony sponsored by Masa Israel Journeys that was very moving and really got them in the atmosphere.

This evening our shnatties will experience something that can only be experienced in Israel: the switch from sadness to happiness when we welcome Israel’s Independence Day. There is dancing, singing, cheering, and free musical performances in central squares.

I want to finish with a Spanish poem written by Rodrigo Soliz. The poem is written to a friend that died in a traffic accident. I heard this poem for the first time when I was on Netzer Year, and it has stuck with me since.

 Suplica (Beg)

And if I told you, Miguel
That I haven’t missed you,
That I didn’t care that you left
That I haven’t felt anger,
That I haven’t felt shame,
That your death was only one more way
For me to appreciate my life with double the efforts.

That I did not cry at your grave,
If I told you!

That I haven’t felt lost,
That I did not suffer
More so, if I said, just to give an example
That in a way I am glad that you died.
That way, you won’t go with me anymore,
Making me lose my time by talking bombs and politics.

If I told you my friend,
That I think you are quite stupid
For dying on a beautiful night,
That you lost your pose, when you fell
On the sidewalk, with a motorcycle in your legs,
And splitting your head.

If I told you my life
Continues to de a happy one,
That Pink Floyd sucks and the
World still goes around,
That we still party
That the shame does not stop us

If I told you,
If I screamed at you!
That I like the girlfriend you left behind
That I have seen your sister and
I like her as well
And that you are a bastard for making them cry

Tell me, Miguel
My friend
If I seriously meant
Every word I have said
Would that make you leave your grave?

Because, if so,
Rest assure, I will say them!

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