Remarks at the annual memorial ceremony of the Americans and Canadians in Israel, June 5, 1986, at the AACI Memorial Forest.
Some day, each of us will die. About dying, as about being born, none of us has a choice. What we can choose is how we use our time, and to what purpose we commit our lives.
The loved ones we commemorate here today died keeping a commitment to Israel. We who remain alive while they are dead have no less a commitment. Each of us can carry forward the meaning of the lives they were unable to live to their full measure.
This is all so very subjective. I will give you a personal reaction.
In all the pain of losing a beloved son, one of the most cruel remarks one can encounter is the question well-meaning people ask: Are you staying in Israel?
Of course we are staying in Israel. Why does the question arise? I have been asked this question as much by Israelis as by people from outside. Perhaps it is because people forget—or perhaps they never knew—why we are here.
We are here—whatever our differences may be, and there may be many differences—for a simple and very powerful reason: To be here. Whatever reasons brought us here, whatever our political or religious convictions, whatever our preferences of lifestyles, we have in common a connection to Israel.
Without her people, there would be no state of Israel. Without her people, there would be no future, and no fulfillment of Israel’s past. So it was with our loved ones who died. Their commitment to Israel links them not only to their time and place, but to the generations that went before them, and to the generations yet to be born. Untimely as their deaths were, the lives of our loved ones transcend the here and now.
There is nothing fanciful or mystical about this. It is a fact: Jewish history is being made today, here in Israel. Our loved ones played their role in it; we can give it further meaning.
If this is difficult for us to understand, how much more so must it be for those in the Diaspora. To the Diaspora Jew, for whom the very notion of living in Israel may seem unreal, how much more difficult must it be to grasp the reality of dying for Israel.
Our presence here is evidence that not all those in the Diaspora regard life in Israel as unthinkable. Many in the Diaspora are deeply touched by the actions of Israel and her people, and many more by the very fact that Israel exists.
They, too, sense a connection. Although they may not be here, they feel a tie to us and to Israel.
Those of us who came from North America have a special opportunity to nurture this tie. By promoting the cause of Aliyah, we can give new impetus to the cause for which our loved ones died. This is more than an opportunity to seek consolation for our loss. At a time when Aliyah is at its lowest in the country’s history, it is a vital national need that ranks in importance with any problem on the agenda today.
Moreover, as survivors of those who died, we are hardly in a position to express indifference. Whatever we former North Americans say or do about Aliyah will be seen as a vote, either for or against the future of Israel and Aliyah.
Indeed, we can make a contribution even by encouraging friends and family to visit here as tourists. It is an unfortunate commentary on the times that even to visit Israel as a tourist takes on the aspect of an important statement. To be in Israel, even as a visitor, is to affirm solidarity with Israel’s existence.
There is also the question of what Israel will become. The future belongs to all of us. We may not all agree on what Israel should be like, but it is almost certain that each of us wants it to be better place, conforming to our particular views of what is better. For each of
us, then, there is both the opportunity and the challenge to work for a better Israel, both to redeem the deaths of our loved ones and to fulfill the vision of all who chose to be part of this country.
It may seem out of place to speak about the survivors, when we are here to remember the dead. But this is proper. The dead can no longer speak for themselves. It is up to us, who continue to receive the gift of life, to carry forward in their memories and in their names with the finest visions they had.
© Joseph M. Hochstein