Ariella Benshmuel – A tribute to my uncles who were among the fallen
There isn’t an experience quite as singularly chilling as the moment of silence observed in Israel on Yom Hazikaron. Granted, just a week beforehand we stood in silence and remembered the six million lives lost during the Holocaust. We united with the memory of our Jewish brothers and sisters and pledged that never again would we be led submissively to our deaths.
It is our sacred duty to remember those innocent victims, to cherish those survivors still living among us and to ensure that future generations will not forget what can happen when the specter of racism and hatred is allowed to rear its ugly head.
A week later, still reeling, we once again stand in silence. In a country as small and close knit as Israel, Yom Hazikaron truly cuts deep. Picks at raw wounds that haven’t had the chance to heal or scab over. After all, there isn’t a soul in Israel that hasn’t lost a family member or friend in one of Israel’s incessant and painful wars, or at the very least knows someone who has. It seems that during the long, agonizing moment of silence the entire country holds its collective breath. Millions of hearts shattering in unison, wordlessly weeping as one.
I know all too well that deep searing pain that suffuses the country before we celebrate our independence. I lost two of my uncles in Israel’s wars. My mother’s and father’s only brothers.
Captain Arieh Har-Tal (Halbzait)was killed during the Yom Kippur war. He was my mother’s only brother. An officer in the IDF’s Armored Corps, he stepped out of his tank for a brief moment in order to repair its communications system and was struck by shrapnel from an anti-tank shell. He died instantaneously. I am his namesake, but never even had the opportunity to meet him. All I know about him comes from my mother’s countless stories. . Painful memories that she nevertheless deems it vital to recount He was a PHD candidate studying chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. An amateur radio enthusiast and lifeguard. A husband, a new father, a brother, a son.
Avraham Ben Shmuel was killed during the Tyre disaster that took place during the First Lebanon War. He worked for the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), and was killed as a result of the collapse of the Israel Defense Forces’ headquarters building in Tyre. He was a true Renaissance man who studied Chinese language and history, worked briefly as a kindergarten teacher, and was one of the first residents of Kibbutz Merom Golan after the Six-Day War. He too was a husband, father of three, brother and son. My brother, Aviad, is his namesake. Like me, he never saw or met him either.
That is the tragedy of warfare and loss. Of Yom Hazikaron. This awful tsunami of pain and grief that rips through families and friends alike and leaves a void in its wake that can never be filled. Scars that will never even begin to heal. My grandparents and parents were never the same after the unimaginable loss that they suffered. My cousins grew up without a father. My brother and I will only ever know our uncles by name alone. The name that we both so proudly carry. This year alone 68 additional families will endure this legacy of grief and loss. More families shattered. More namesakes.
The families of the fallen don’t need Yom Hazikaron to remember their loved ones. They remember them every second of every minute of every day. But for one day, a scant few hours before we celebrate the birth of Israel, the entire nation mourns and weeps with them. We stand with heavy hearts as the shrill and awful cry of the sirens pierces the sacred silence. With tear streaked eyes we watch that awful, never ending list of casualties scroll slowly across our TV screens. We stop and remember why we are here. We acknowledge the heavy—almost unbearable- price that we pay for our independence. We experience the tragedy and miracle which is the State of Israel.