I remember my first trip to Israel, summer 2001. On my program of about 100 girls, there were four Israelis. We were headed up north when Sbarro’s Pizzeria was bombed. The bus turned around to drop off two girls at a gas station, to meet their parents, who took them to the funeral of their friend Malki Roth.
I remember my first year in Israel. In September 2003, just a few days after arriving, from my seminary near Shaarei Tzedek hospital, we heard the sirens announcing the bombing of Cafe Hillel and the death of Naava Applebaum and her father, the night before her wedding. All year, the sirens continued, at first every few days, then slowing to once every few weeks.
I remember the summer of 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, my date cancelled to attend the funeral of American lone soldier Michael Levin.
I remember the evening in 2008 when a terrorist walked into my husband’s yeshiva with a machine gun hidden in a box and killed Neria Cohen, Segev Pniel Avichayil, Avraham David Moses, Yehonatan Yitzchak Eldar, Ro’i Roth, Yohai Lipshitz, Yonadav Chaim Hirshfeld, and Doron Mahareta.
I remember the morning, a year and one week after our wedding, when my husband stepped into a uniform the color of his eyes and out the door. I knew that uniform makes a prime target. He returned with a gun and a sunburn, week after week, for six months, thank G-d. A war broke out during that time, but since he was still in training, he didn’t need to fight.
I remember the polite, eager learner in the ninth grade who sat in the front row. A few months after I stopped teaching in her school, Odelya was waiting for a bus home when a bomb hidden in the garbage can beside her exploded. Last I heard, Odelya Nechama bat Michal had been in a coma for over five years.
I remember the relief I felt when my husband’s reserve duty, scheduled for the summer my fourth child was born, was cancelled. Rockets started flying at Jerusalem just days before the birth. In the hospital waiting room, while I counted contractions, he joked, “What if I got called up now?” Not funny. His cousin, due a month after me, spent those weeks sick with worry over her husband in Gaza, who was released shortly before the birth. Many of our friends or their husbands were called up, and all I knew personally came back, but not all without PTSD still plaguing them years later.
I remember sirens the morning I left my first-grader to wait for a bus to school in a neighborhood where five rabbis were being slaughtered while standing in prayer. One of them, Aryeh Kupinsky, my teacher’s son and a man of large stature, tried to fight off the attackers and give others time to escape.
I remember the car that rammed into the bus stop down the block, the teenagers caught with knives about to enter the synagogue around the corner, the stabbings at the Central Bus Station, the sirens, more sirens, always sirens.
Tonight, we will celebrate the country’s independence. Today, we remember those who paid the price for this country with their lives. At eleven o’clock, another siren will sound, and the whole country will stand and remember.