You can feel it in the air as Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, approaches.
And how could you not? We are a small nation which has paid a heavy price in blood to live freely in our small patch of land.
The souls of our brave warriors cry out for peace. Their blood which drenches our holy soil screams out for justice. Our enemies, whose goal is to destroy us and rob us of our land, have left our country with too many heroes, and with too many bereaved widows and orphans.
Growing up in the U.S., I am embarrassed to say that Memorial Day often left me feeling disconnected from the gravity of the day. I was unappreciative of the sacrifice of others, and overly occupied with my own concerns, my attention turned away from the heroes who deserved it.
But that has changed in Israel.
It changed when Memorial Day became personal. It changed when my neighbor next door, Safta Yudit or Grandma Yudit as my kids call her, sat with my family on the bench outside our house and explained that it was dedicated in memory of her son Amos, who was killed in the Second Lebanon War.
And it has changed every time I’ve watched Safta Yudit sweep up the dead leaves that gather around the bench, holding onto the memory of her son as the wind blows in a fresh batch of fallen leaves.
This Memorial Day, as I reflected on the freedom for which so many men and women have given their lives, I asked myself what this freedom means to me.
Growing up in the U.S., I grew up with freedom. I could go anywhere I wanted, study in any school, and practice my religion exactly the way I wanted. So what is this “freedom” in Israel which so many people have died for me to have?
My answer came on Independence Day, or Yom HaAztmaut, the day that immediately follows Memorial Day.
The morning of Independence Day began in synagogue where we gathered to pray and sing praises to God for the miracle for Israel. We offered our praise to the sounds of guitar, hand-drums, and tambourines, all while draped with prayer shawls and bound by phylacteries.
When I returned home, my family prepared the house for the arrival of a group of donors whose generosity enables The Fellowship to continue its lifesaving aid to Jews in Israel and around the world. Forty-five Christian friends packed into our home to enjoy a warm Mediterranean-style lunch on Independence Day.
Sitting on my porch and enjoying the company of the Christian Zionists whose passion and dedication to Israel’s wellbeing has brought us together on Independence Day, I spoke to a couple from California.
We spoke about God, faith, Israel, and The Fellowship. At one point in the conversation, my new Christian friend looked at me and said, “You know what I tell people when they ask me for proof that there is a God?” I paused and waited for him to answer. “Israel!” he exclaimed. “Study history and the Bible and then look at the fulfillment of biblical prophesies relating to Israel and you will see all the proof you need that there is certainly a Living God who runs the world.”
And there, celebrating Israel with likeminded friends of faith, I not only saw proof of God, but of the fulfillment of His Word and His works.