Saturday, May 1, 2010

Yom HaZikaron, Traffic Tragedies

For two hours on Sunday evening, the 18th of April, songs and poems of lost innocence replaced my regular regimen of crawling and shooting. The occasion was Yom HaZikaron, the day Israelis mourn their fallen soldiers. Earlier in the day training had ground to a halt as a siren briefly echoed across the country. The tunes we now sang were spun by the likes of Naomi Shemer and Natan Alterman, of the burning fires and clear waters (Al Kol Eleh) and the endless fatigue, the dew of the youth (The Silver Platter).

The ceremony we held was essentially a secular prayer service, a classic case of secular nationalism taking on the guise of traditional religious custom. The most unexpected part of the service, however, came when we were shown a short video of my unit's fallen soldiers. I expected to hear stories of young soldiers killed in the line of fire. Instead, nearly everyone in the film died in civilian car accidents, leaving the world in uniform yet hardly in the manner one imagines of a soldier's death.

The video left me with two lessons. One is that a loss is a loss, with the context of a loved one's death not necessarily providing any consolation to family and friends. And two, we owe it to ourselves and to others to approach traffic tragedies with the same seriousness we pay to national security. On a personal level that means paying the same attention to my driving as my shooting, placing safety belts on the same pedestal as the safety trigger on my gun.

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