For me, one of the most poignant events of Israel Memorial Day has been attending the memorial ceremony at my children’s religious grade schools and high schools, during which the students tell stories about brave Israeli soldiers who have fallen defending our cherished Homeland, the greatest sacrifice and sanctification of G-d that a Jew can make. Younger children acted out the famous battle of Givat HaTachmoshet, one of the decisive battles of the Six Day War. After the profoundly moving two-minute long siren that is sounded all over the country, the children parade with Israeli flags around the auditorium in tune to the rousing Israeli melodies.
“Thank you, G-d,” I would said quietly while I watched. “Thank you for taking me out of America. Thank you for making me realize that George Washington isn’t my real forefather, and that the Boston Tea Party has nothing to do with my past. Thank you G-d for bringing me to the Land of the Jews and teaching me the true meaning of Torah, which isn’t just performing individual precepts, like kashrut and Shabbos, but also helping to build the Holy Jewish Nation in its Holy Land. Thank you for giving me healthy, wonderful children who are all growing up as Jews through and through, celebrating Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days, and not someone else’s, children who will grow up to become soldiers of Israel and defend the inheritance of the Jews, and not do everything they can to dodge army service like young Jews do in other countries.”
Only an oleh who lives in Israel can appreciate the incredible difference between religious kids who grow up in Israel and their Diaspora counterparts. My children are a different species of child, a totally different breed. Sure they like candy and Coke and playing basketball like all children, but their heads are in a completely different place. The wars they learn about are Jewish wars. Their war heroes are Israeli. Their flag is the Star and David – not the Stars and Stripes of someone else’s country. Their songs of patriotism are Israeli. They celebrate Israel’s independence and not the Fourth of July or Bastille Day. The history they learn is the history of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and King David, Rabbi Akiva and the Maccabees. Instead of growing up being American kids who are Jewish, they are Children of Israel, just as we are called in the Bible.
Here in Israel, I meet a lot of wonderful, young Jewish Americans who come for a year of study. No matter what religious group they belong to, or how many years they’ve been in yeshiva, their heads are in America. Religious-wise they are all good, well-meaning Jews, but their heads have been grafted with all of the history and folklore of America, from Betsy Ross to the Vietnam War and jokes about Trump and Biden. “Oh cool, oh colossal, everything is in Hebrew!” you hear them say on buses, enjoying their vacation while Israeli kids their age are going into the army or some other meaningful national service. Hopefully, many of them will be caught up in the meaning of being Jewish in Israel and decide to live their lives in the Jewish state.
Thank G-d my kids grew up in Israel. Thank G-d for opening my eyes that being Jewish means being absorbed in Jewish history, and celebrating Jewish independence, and living in the Jewish Land, and performing the mitzvot in the place they were meant to be performed. Thank you G-d for actualizing the goal of our prayers in bringing me home to live a life of Torah in the Land you gave to my forefathers, as we pray every day, three times a day, in the Amidah prayer,
“Sound the great shofar of our freedom; lift up the banner to bring our exiles together, and gather us from the four corners of the earth.”