Tuesday, July 18th, 2017...3:27 pm

A silent crowd of thousands

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Yom Hazikaron in Israel


My time spent at URJ Heller High in Israel was a semester filled with new and exciting experiences. There was always an adventure to be had, whether I was in class or climbing up a mountain with 60 of my closest friends.

Carmen Garrigos.

Every day was new and filled with adventure, love and laughter. Most of the days had a happy aura to them, but there were days, like Yom HaZikaron, that required the utmost respect and seriousness from the students and faculty of URJ Heller High.

Yom HaZikaron is the equivalent to the American Memorial Day. It is a day of remembrance in Israel, a day to honor fallen brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and friends lost while serving in the Israeli army. From what I saw and lived through, Israel takes this day of remembrance in a very serious and solemn way, something that I hadn’t experienced during America’s Memorial Day.

Being there, present among all the activities and immersed in the true meaning of this important day made a significant impact on all of us. The reason for the immense importance of this holiday is the fact that around 74 percent of Jewish Israelis go to the army; therefore, in Israel, everyone is bound to know or have known someone who has served in the IDF.

Since my friends and I were just a group of American teenagers, the concept of losing a loved one because of the army was foreign to us. But I strongly and wholeheartedly believe that Heller High did an incredible job of immersing us — Jewish teens — into the culture, traditions and mindset of this day of remembrance.

On the eve of Yom HaZikaron, we attended the state ceremony at the Western Wall. The ceremony began with the siren at 8 p.m. There was then utter silence in a crowd of thousands. My friends and I were all in awe of the respect and somberness manifested by the citizens of Israel. After the minute of silence, the ceremony began. It was all in Hebrew, but our counselors put forth their best efforts to interpret the ceremony.

But words were not needed to understand what was happening. I could tell important people were speaking, sharing their grief with their fellow citizens. People were listening to the speakers, nodding heads, hugging loved ones, or staring at the ground -everyone was listening, because they knew that there was a connection between them and the speaker that had already been established. But since I was not able to keep up with the speakers I constantly caught myself looking at people, really looking.

I thought about what their reasons might be for attending the annual ceremony.Did they lose a family member? A friend? I thought about the community of Israel, how all of these people, strangers, came to the ceremony to hold hands in remembrance for the brave men and women of their beloved country. This thought brought me to tears. This moment was, and continues to be, the most impactful part of my entire semester. The love and pride that Israelis have for their country is absolutely incredible.

The next day, we were given the opportunity to attend the Kibbutz Tzuba Yom HaZikaron ceremony. We walked to the Kibbutz Tzuba cemetery to find people of all ages, sitting and standing around two graves covered in flowers and stones. These graves were those of the fallen soldiers who had grown up on the kibbutz. Unlike at the ceremony the night before, there was a lighter mood.

People seemed to be somewhat happy and were reminiscing about the lives of the lost sons and daughters of the community. As the ceremony began, kibbutzniks began to sing songs and tell stories honoring the memory of the soldiers. Though I was again unable to understand what they were saying, I could sense the love and pride in their voices. This ceremony was an experience of a lifetime for all of my peers and me. We were able to feel and understand the intimacy of the kibbutz ceremony without feeling like outsiders.

The most incredible part of the experience, though, was at the end. As people were beginning to make their way to the exit, my fellow students and I walked toward the graves, picking up stones along the way. We then, one by one, put a stone on each of the graves and took a few minutes of silence in respect for the men and women who died when they were not much older than us. I will always remember this moment where compassion and love were shown through every single one of us.

We were all so affected by these 24 hours. The ups and downs of the day personally strengthened my Jewish identity as I was truly able to experience my ever-growing pride for Israel. And for that, I thank URJ Heller High.


Carmen Garrigos is 17 years old and a resident of St. Louis Park. She just completed a spring semester with URJ Heller High: Isaac and Helaine Heller EIE High School in Israel. Carmen will be attending Hopkins High School for her senior year. She is the daughter of Carole Blumenberg and Ignacio Garrigos and the granddaughter of Faye Chazin and Harvey Blumenberg. Carmen is a downhill racer/skier and plays ultimate frisbee. In addition, she is a teacher’s assistant at Temple Israel’s religious school.

1 Comment

  • Carmen, reading your article made me a little jealous that I have never had the same experience as you. Faye and Harvey would be so very proud of you, as we all are. You are an amazing and special young woman!

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