Over the last ten days Jews all over the world – in particular in Israel – have experienced an intensely emotional roller coaster. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we remembered the six million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis. Five days later, we shed tears as we remembered and grieved the loss of 23,230 soldiers who gave up their lives so we can live ours in our own Jewish state. Just 24 hours later, we came together again, this time in immense joy, as we celebrated 67 blessed years in our tiny but precious country.
As my husband and I processed our emotions over the last two weeks, it was ultimately our children who provided the most inspiration and hope for the future. As parents, it is our tendency to want to shield our children from danger, whether it be physical or emotional. Only a month after we arrived in Israel, the three boys went missing, and from that point on, there was no protecting or masking our children from the pain that we were suffering as a people. They were all too aware what the siren indicated during Operation Protective Edge, and often talked about the enemy “Hamas.”
On Holocaust Remembrance Day, I read many accounts about different aspects of the Holocaust in order to try to tap into the horror of what happened to our people. The mind cannot do much with the number “six million.” It is beyond our comprehension. It was my girls who ultimately helped me tune into the day, bringing me home memorial candles that they had been given from school. “Here, Ima, tonight we’re going to light a candle for, and remember, Mendel from Poland.” Just like that, thanks to them, I was able to cry real tears and remember Mendel whose life was cruelly extinguished by the Nazis.
My oldest daughter, who is in the school choir, practiced day in, day out, deeply painful songs about IDF soldiers who died protecting us. As she rehearsed songs about soldiers, who from their graves apologized to their loved ones for breaking their promise to return safely home, she talked to me about the meaning of the words and how sad they were. When I heard her sing this song in the Yom Hazikaron ceremony in her school, I was totally moved and overcome by the children. They were not simply performing their parts. Children as young as seven years old were reflecting, remembering and feeling the pain of the loss of the soldiers, a few of whom had been previous students of their school or connected to them in some way.
Just 24 hours later, my children were singing and dancing in our community Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration – singing songs of national Jewish pride. They were not just mouthing the words but were genuinely connected to the awesomeness that is our country.
We want to protect our children from pain. That is a natural and correct parental instinct. However our Children of Israel today are strong, confident, and passionate. They understand the meaning of loss, but also are given a context in which to feel pain and sadness. They understand what it means to give of yourself and believe in a greater good. And they know how to grasp and love each moment, celebrating the tremendous nation that we are – that can only make those we have lost smile down from above.
I have always observed and noticed how much more mature and confident Israeli children are than others in different parts of the world. The reason is that children at a very young age here are intuitively aware of what is happening in Israel. While I would obviously do as much as I can to protect them, it is correct and healthy that they know what it meant to be a Jew in 1939, and what it means to be a Jew in the State of Israel today. When we look at our Children of Israel, they give their parents and elders hope and comfort – as they represent an inspired future in the Jewish homeland. Do I wish my children never had to experience such pain? Absolutely. But the Children of Israel today have taught me, in their simple yet profound understanding of our people, that we can and will thrive – no matter what.