Post 39: Remembrance day

I spent my first remembrance day in Israel guarding the annual memorial ceremony at the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem.

We arrived at around noon, and at two we were briefed by a high ranking police officer about the threats and our responsibilities. Ultimately, I was put near the civilian entrance, where I stood from 3:30 to 9:30 with __, the police officer I had been stationed with. While she rejected my premise that 23 is the new 29, she did tell me that she would set me up with her younger sister. Winning. As people began to flow in, I found it remarkable how many of them I knew. Ten or so of my friends from the Tel Aviv University overseas program staggered in, all shocked to see me in my ammunition vest, gripping a loaded gun in the ready position across my chest. I think the girls might have been a little frightened by this sight, as they didn’t stay for long. There were a number of big shots in attendance. A Knesset member strolled in surrounded by a crowd of dangerous looking men in suits with ear pieces. The ramatkal (head of the army), Benny Gantz, was also in attendance, surrounded by dozens of high ranking officers. The ceremony itself began at 8, with the annual memorial day siren.

On Yom Hazeekaron, at 8 PM sharp, a siren sounds throughout the country. During that moment, the entire country stops in it’s tracks: People get out of their cars on back roads and highways alike, and stand at attention for a full minute to honor Israel’s fallen. To me, it is among the most touching tributes imaginable for an entire country to stop in it’s tracks twice in 24 hours in memory of those whose paths were cut short fighting to defend it. It was an incredible honor to stand guard over the people of Israel as they mourned those we’ve lost; to know that they looked to us for protection, and that our presence there allowed them to watch the ceremony in peace. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt prouder than I felt in that moment.

We returned to base that night. The next day, we stood at attention at 11 am for the memorial siren, and then learned about a number of Israel’s fallen heroes. After a briefing about riot procedure and the special gear we’d be receiving for our guard duty stint in Nablus later that week, we were given the night and the next day off (read: on base) in celebration of Israel’s independence day. We ate too much, slept too much, and topped it all off with a Barbecue in our pluga on tables with blue and white table cloths. All in all, a very good start to the week.

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