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Defining Moments

Tags: History, Am Yisrael, Solidarity, Leadership, People and society

By Erica Hirsch Edvi

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When I was in sixth grade, the teachers at my Jewish day school ushered us into a room with a television one day to watch the signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn. I didn’t understand the significance of what I was watching at the time, but it was clearly important if they were allowing TV at school in the middle of the day.

Less than two years later, on a cold November evening, my father walked up to me in midtown Manhattan and with a tremor in his voice told me that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated. Though I was only a teenager, not yet immersed in news or politics, I still remember the moment he told me, the look on his face, and I know that moment will stick with me for the rest of my life.

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There are moments we experience and as they happen we tell ourselves, ‘I want to remember this.’ There are those we never intend on remembering, and yet somehow they’ve left their lasting impression long after the moment has ended. And then there are those that are thrust upon us, leaving an indelible imprint on our lives forever.

Just as my parents’ generation will always remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, or when the Challenger exploded, there are the moments that those of my generation will never be able to erase from our minds.

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There are moments which shake the world at large; a scant few of us will ever forget where we were on 9/11. So many of our defining moments are intertwined with our nationality, specific to the country we call home. Yet as Jews, and even more so as Zionists, there far more events that, crossing borders and time zones, remain forever etched in our minds.

I will never forget the summer day I lazily awoke in my dorm at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, only to learn that a bomb had gone off in the cafeteria moments earlier. I remember the time I sat at the original Café Hillel in downtown Jerusalem, only to have the table shake as a bus bomb detonated several blocks away. I also remember exactly where I was, eleven years ago this Saturday, when I heard about the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

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The Columbia tragedy wasn’t just another heartbreaking news item. Am Yisrael, the people of Israel, lost one of our own. The pride every Israeli felt in January 2003 as Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut launched into space, was shattered after a mere sixteen days as the Columbia disintegrated. Six years later, the Ramon family would endure another tragedy with the untimely death of their eldest son, Asaf, in a training accident with the Israeli Air Force.

The Ramon family’s pain was twofold, raw and personal, and yet it was collectively shared by the rest of Israel. The ties that bind Israelis are those which bind the greater Jewish world: the knowledge of an ancestral bond, that in spite of all our differences, we are also one family. The Jewish world mourned Ilan Ramon because he was one of us. This connection we share, though it may seem trivial, is what compels us to share in the tears of a woman who, after burying her husband, must now bury her son.

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Rona and Asaf Ramon

The pain we feel at the loss of one of our own is taken personally, a reminder of how life is fleeting and how much we have to be grateful for. Fortunately however, it is not only the painful moments which unite us. Just a few weeks ago, the Jewish world let out a collective sigh of relief upon the news that Caleb Jacoby, son of Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, was found alive and well after going missing for three days.

We celebrate the happy moments as any family should, holding one another close and vowing to remember them for years to come. I can still picture myself, just over two years ago, sitting glued to the television with my twelve-day old daughter in my arms and tears streaming down my face, as I watched Gilad Shalit return from the nightmare of captivity to the warmth of his parents’ embrace.

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The tattered remains of an Israeli Air Force flag which Ramon carried into space, found among the debris in Texas.

In the darkest of moments, another’s pain can become our own. Our humanity shines through during the seemingly mundane moments and all the more so in extreme ones. Our Jewish bond is reaffirmed with each family fortunate enough to bring their loved one home, our loving embrace strengthened for those whose loss is a stain on our history. As the Talmud teaches us, Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh L’Zeh (all the people of Israel are responsible for one another). As long as we learn from our past and remain true to the values of our nation which has persevered for thousands of years, the Jewish people shall remain resilient. What we share in our common history is far more powerful than the many issues which can divide us. Through the good moments and the bad, Israel, and the Jewish people, soldier on.

For those who made it home, may you never again experience darkness or despair. For Ilan and Asaf Ramon, and for all those who will never cross the threshold of their home again, may your memory be for a blessing.



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