Yizkor - The Israeli debate of God Vs. The People


In the ealy 1920's, a Hebrew poet and intellectual by the name of Berl Katznelson wrote a short segment to commemorate his friends who died in the battle of Tel-Hai, among them the famous Joseph Trumpeldor. The passage, called "Yizkor" ('Remember'), started with the words:

"Remember will the People of Israel the pure souls of his sons and daughters"

 

After the formation of the State of Israel, the passage (though with a few generalizing alterations) became a an official remembrance passage, said at funerals and memorials of fallen soldiers and on the official Memorial Day commemorations.

However, in the 90 years since those words were written, the words "Remember will the People of Israel" have somehow been replaced in certain circles with the phrase "Remember will God".

Just as it was with the American Pledge of Allegiance, with the huge exception that Israel is a state that - believe it or not - was founded on the grounds of labor and secularism, and only in the last 30 or so years became overgrown with religious influences. Doubly so where the Israeli military is concerned.

 

While many people still use the classic "Remember will the people of Israel", someone noted lately that there is no official word on the matter, and that most (if not all) commemorations in the military use the newer religious "Remember will God his lost sons and daughters".

 

Recently it became a matter of public debate, when the mother of a fallen soldier declared that she does not wish the newer version to be said at her son's commemorations, but rather the original "Remember will the People of Israel". She went as far as to create a petition, which has so far been signed by about 62,000 people (that's a lot in Israeli terms). Following that, someone in the military sent an Email to the Israeli Defense Force Chief of Staff's office inquiring on the matter, and was replied with "The military command is to use the 'Remember will God' version", which of course sparked a huge public uproar to which the Chief of Staff replied that he was not even consulted about the email, and that there is no official command in the matter as of yet.

 

Due to the huge public debate, a committee has been assigned to study the matter and come up with an official conclusion and recommendation. Usually in these matters, they find a middle ground that suits everyone. More often than not, these solutions are utterly ridiculousness and completely miss the point.

 

Take for example the remembrance monument in Jerusalem. First you have to realize the the words "Shall Remember" in Hebrew are just one word, that changes according to the subject. In this case, the debate was whether to write the word "Yizkor" which means 'He shall remember' (which could refer to either 'The people of Israel' or 'God'), or "Nikzor" which means "We shall remember". The solution was as brilliant as it was ridiculous - they cut the word into stone in such a way that from some angles you see the word "Yizkor", and on other angles you see the word "Nizkor". It has been jokingly said that in the morning when the monument is well lit everybody remembers, and later that day when the sun goes down and shadows fall on the letters only God remembers.

 

Either way - it's a cop-out. And as for the remembrance passage, a recently offered combined version - which will probably get approved - is as offensive as it is completely missing the point. The new offered solution is "God and the People of Israel shall remember their fallen sons and daughters".

 

This might seem like a good mid-ground, but it completely misses the point and the reason why people objected to the religious phrasing it the first place. The aforementioned mother of the fallen soldier opposed this saying that "My son died in battle, leave God out of this".

 

And I say - even if there WAS a God, who are we to tell him who to remember? He's God, he remembers! The point of these ceremonies is not to remind God that people still die in war, it's to remind ourselves! It's to remember those who died and more importantly WHY they died. It's man who starts wars, it's man's responsibility to stop them.

 

If we forget about all the wars, all the pain, all the suffering, all the sacrifice and bravery, if we forget how we got to where we are and why we keep losing good men and women to war, then not even God can help us.

 

They say that "God only helps those who help themselves", and I say something further: If there is a God, he only remembers those who are remembered by others". It's not God's responsibility nor duty to remember the fallen ones and say "Never again!", it's ours. It's our responsibility, our fault - if you will - that they had to die in battle. It's therefor our DUTY to remember it, to remember why, and to remind ourselves that this is the price - the ultimate price - of war.

 

Postscript:

The full and original passage, as written by Katznelson, is as follows:

(Loosely translated by myself)

 

Remember will the People of Israel the pure souls of his sons and daughters:

 

Shnior Shpushnik

Aharon Sher

Debora Drachler

Benjamin Monter

Zeev Sharf

Sarah Chizik

Jacob Tucker

Joseph Trumpeldor.


The brave and the loyal, people of labor and peace, who went by the plow and sacrificed their souls for the honor of Israel and for the land of Israel.

The Israeli people shall remember and be blessed by his seed and shall mourn the glory of youth, the yearning for heroism, the sanctity of will and the soul devotion which were exterminated in the heavy battle.

Shell he never be silenced and never be comforted until the day when Israel shall reclaim his stolen land.

 

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