Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Yom Hazikaron 2013

     Stones and Names

I look around at the rows of stones. All clearly marked; all uniform.  All silent and still; cold and white. Each stone tells a completed life story in five uniform lines. But each stone, each name is unique to its visitor. The dates bear testimony to a life cut short, in the prime of youth. To these stones come weeping fathers, lonely mothers, silent friends. Regular visitors to this garden, they walk mechanically to the stone that bears the name they know. They sit opposite the stone quietly.

Sometimes you can hear them talk to these stones in soft, gentle voices. Other times they stare blankly. This is where they purge their grief, collect their composure or give free reign to their sorrow. They arrange the flowers, water the plants and place small pebbles on the stone surface. That’s all that remains to do for their loved ones.

Some visitors look at each other in tacit recognition. They greet one another with a knowing nod, or a soft squeeze of the hand.  They are united by pain, loss and grief. This place is their last sanctuary.

On a stone marked “Tom” a note flutters under a vase of fresh flowers. “To my brave son who was given to me on loan for 20 years.  I loved you more than mother earth ever could.” A small photograph of a young toddler is placed on Dan’s grave. “From the daughter you gave me and never lived to see.”  On Omer’s grave, there is an army boot which has been turned into a pot plant, with a note attached: “To the man who never stopped walking”. On another grave, someone has pinned the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s song ‘Blowing in the Wind’.  God, they say, is in the details.

It is twenty five years since Ilan was killed in Lebanon. A young, dashing soldier with the sun in his eyes and a spring in his walk. I sit opposite the stone that bears his name and remember. Suddenly, from unknown corners and behind tall trees, his laughter returns; his smile resurfaces; the memories come rushing back.

Twenty five years have gone by since Ilan’s name was added to these stones. How it all seems so vivid again: the terrible chain of events which ended here, in Ra’anana’s military cemetery. We gathered here, his family, school friends and army colleagues, beside that small patch of land and watched as he was returned to the earth. Doron was there, as was Ayelet and Tiran. A class reunion of the kind we never wanted and always feared. And the green berets melted with the red and the blue and the grey.

Overnight, his parents joined the ranks of what we term ‘the bereaved family’. His father recited ‘God Full of Mercy’ and I whispered to Shylee “what God? What mercy?” and, in turn, she pressed her head against mine as we wept quietly.

Nearby stands Ostrovsky High School where Ilan and I studied. You can see it from the cemetery if you crane your neck. We used to run around the perimeter of this cemetery during sports lessons. Ilan always ran ahead, always coming first.

In his death, Ilan has marked a dot in a foreign field. Somewhere in Lebanon there is a place that is forever him.

How the Middle East has changed since his death. Wars, spontaneous uprisings, internet and social media have changed the area so radically. Ilan did not see any of it. He died even before the word ‘intifada’ came into use. And now, each time I visit this garden I am taken back to the eve of Passover, 1987. I am once again there; in Israel, young, weeping in Hebrew. So many of us have now been catapulted over decades and continents by the vicissitudes of life. I now live in the furthest reaches of where this drama took place. Australia is as far as the mind can stretch.  Yet it is here, in this sad place, that I remember the Israel I knew and loved. This is where I truly belong. Just like Greg Brown writes:

And we stood there holding hands, signs and candles
but soon enough our hands all had to part
You can take the heart out of this country
but you can't take the country out of your heart.

Every now and then, at unexpected times, I am reminded of this.

Yes, the flowers bloom in Coogee, the sea is always beautiful and the whales migrate according to the seasons. But there is always something missing. At unexpected times, it all comes back; the absence, and the loss. And there is that wistful sentiment each time I hear the happy clamour my students make on their way to class. They are now of the same age Ilan and I were when we last laughed.

A quarter of a century has gone by. I am now in my fifth decade while Ilan remains 19.

This garden will always serve to me as a reminder of how lucky we were; and how unjust life can be. As I walk away from this quiet sanctuary that has been privy to so many tears and so much pain, I look once more at that stone that bears his name. ILAN HAZIZA. As I walk out of the front gate, I remember once more the ebullient young man with the incorrigible laugh.  I see in my mind the young soldier who would not stop running. Young and confident, marching to his fate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

אורי שלום, זו איריס אחותו של אילן. . העליתי תגובה אחרי הסיפור שפרסמת ב2008 שאחריו יש תגובה של בחור בשם יורם בריידי אשמח לשמוע ממך. irisponsible@gmail.com