In August 1973, I arrived in Israel with my family for a six-month stay. My parents were university professors on sabbatical and were eager to experience life in Israel. We rented an apartment in Kiryat Moshe in Jerusalem and quickly settled into the family routines of life here – kindergarten and school for the children, ulpan for my parents, and weekend trips to explore the country.
Everything changed, however, on Yom Kippur. That holy day, sirens shattered the calm and Israel was plunged into a war for its survival. My parents decided to remain in Israel and help where they could, volunteering in a bakery and on a farm to replace reservists who had been mobilized. We struggled to understand what was happening around us. On days we had to go down to the bomb shelter, or the nights we had to black out the lights in our apartment, it was apparent enough. Other days’ we were simply confused.
But one thing was clear from the start, even to me as a young boy: all the young men in our neighborhood had disappeared, gone to the front. And every Israeli family we knew was gripped with worry about their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons. The Yom Kipur war touched every Israeli family.
More than 2,500 Israeli soldiers died in the Yom Kippur War, fighting to save their country, each death shattering a family. And throughout Israel’s 64 years of existence, thousands of other Israelis have fought and died to protect their country. Many more have been victims of terrorist attacks – falling on the battle of the home front while fulfilling their duty of carrying on normal life.
American knows Israel’s pain. Generations of Americans have also fought and died to defend our country and to stop the spread of tyranny. In recent years, Americans have become even more painfully acquainted with the realities that Israelis have known throughout their existence. Thousands of our citizens and other innocents, going about their daily lives, were murdered in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 by an enemy who sought to destroy the United States and our way of life. In the war that followed in Afghanistan to uproot those who attacked us, more than 1,900 Americans have died. Over the same period, we lost over 4,400 service members in Iraq. As our military cemeteries have filled, more and more American families have known the pain of losing a loved one who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Our Memorial Day ceremonies have taken on new and trenchant meaning.
Our losses represent something the United States and Israel share. As two societies committed to the values of freedom and democracy, we know that defending these values, and protecting our fellow citizens, exacts a terrible but necessary price. For Israel, it has too often meant fighting for its very survival. Perhaps most cutting of all, this cost falls disproportionately on the young. Men and women with bright futures, potential families, and unrealized accomplishments lie silent.
Our peoples also share the bittersweet satisfaction that despite the pain of loss, our societies and values have survived, and our ties have grown stronger. Over the years, we have built a deep partnership between our militaries. American and Israeli soldiers train together to learn the most effective tactics from each other. Our military planners develop joint strategies to better respond to the toughest security challenges. We have worked together to bring the most advanced technologies – including armor for fighting vehicles and missile defense systems – to the battlefield. All of this cooperation shares the goal of enabling our brave soldiers to defend our nations and protect our citizens, while minimizing the chances they will have to pay with their lives.
But still, we know the losses will come. It is the price of freedom.
The Talmud teaches us that the value of each life is equal to an entire world. For each family that has lost a loved one, it is like the loss of a whole world. And one of the most important tasks, a mitzvah, on Memorial Day, and every day, is to comfort the bereaved.
Allies stand with each other in times of struggle, in times of triumph, and in times of mourning. Today, as Israel honors and remembers its fallen heroes and victims of terrorism, America remembers with you.