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Made of Stone, I also Weep for our Losses

The monument at the corner of Ahuza and Hasharon, Raanana

Dawn breaks. It's chilly. The rising dew coats me with moisture. I know that it will take two hours for the first warmth from the rays of the sun to dispel both the dampness and the cold. These are the quiet moments of my day. After the sun comes up, my visitors will start to arrive. They come in a defined sequence and I know the pulse and the rhythm, yet each day brings its own unique surprises.

I've been here since 1973. It seems like such a long time and yet compared to the anticipated duration of my life, it's a drop in the bucket. I was commissioned after the Six Day War, but like everything else here in Israel, from conception to dedication, there are many bureaucratic hurdles. The city fathers wanted me to be here. I had no choice.

It's hard. I carry all these names. Come look. There, on my north side, 36 names from the Yom Kippur war. That was a tough one. I knew some of those boys. Not well, but I knew them. I was here two years before they were called up. Some of them used to hang around here in the evening. That was some call-up. See that hall there? On Yom Kippur, it's used as a Beit Knesset. They just came running out. A whole country, a whole world, a whole lifetime turned upside down …. and where did it get us? I'll be damned if I know.

Look again. The third name down from the top on the Yom Kippur list, Avram. He was 62 years old and had already fought in three wars. He was a plumber. The hits they took those first few days on the Golan! The tank corps saved the day. Every second counted. So they sent Avram to the Golan to repair tanks behind the lines. But there were no lines. He was hit by a mortar. He had volunteered. There were no medals, no special acknowledgement; just me to carry his name.

Yuri was a Russian oleh, one of the very first to come from Russia. He was living here in the absorption center when he was drafted. A wonderful boy. Came by himself and used to hang out here in the square. Then he met Shira, a beautiful young girl from a religious family. They fell in love here in my shadows. I used to hear them whispering. Yuri made aliyah because his father was Jewish. When he and Shira wanted to marry, he found out he was not! Then the war broke out and he was mobilized. So, was he Jewish? Now his name is inscribed right next to Avram's.

Look! It's almost ten o'clock. Go! Put your hand on my south side. See how nice and warm it is. That means the old folk will be here soon. They are so sweet. They come with their wheelchairs, their walkers, their canes. They fought in 1948 and 1956 but they never talk about it. No, they talk about doctors, ailments, medications and the price of gambas at the market. That's what's important to them now. 

Remembrance ... some of the names of those who fell defending Israel which are etched on the monument

See that fellow there with the cane? Yes, the one bent over with the white hair and the soiled sweater. Came in '48 from the DP camps; he and a younger brother. At the dock, he was given a gun and his brother was given a uniform. There weren't enough supplies for everyone. Once I heard him talking. He never found out where his brother fought, where he died or where he is buried, but he got his brother's name inscribed on my south side. I carry it with special pride.

That old lady in the wheelchair comes every morning. Her son is on my west side, the Six Day War. He fell in combat. An only child. The west is my coldest side in the morning; but that's where she sits and she stares at me all morning long. Twice a year she brings me flowers. Places them there at the base. Then she cries. Twice a year she cries.

These old folks, they're all going to die. I lose a couple each year but I appreciate them. They built this country. Without them, without their ideals and dedication - no country - no memorials. But come back after noon - that's when the young mothers with the little ones come. You really want to see that.

Now the sun is strong. It beats down on me but I don't mind. I mind the damn pigeons. Crap on me all day long. Absolutely no control. Feel the urge, let it rip. The dogs are no great blessing either, all around my base, day and night. Sometimes the little boys. You have to hear their mothers, "Stop bothering me, Gur, go do it near the pillar. No one will see you and if they do, who cares!"

See that quiet blond with the twins? Her husband was lost in Lebanon. He's here too. I remember when they were dating. They used to sit on that bench over there, the one near the olive tree. They were so much in love. He died three months after the twins were born. She came to sit alone after they engraved his name here, with tears running down her face. She would bring the twins here and point to Aryeh's name. "See, that's your father." It was said with both affection and bitterness. Then she met someone new. They married. Now she comes rarely and only sits quietly.

You watch these little ones run and shout and play. Their mothers sit in groups in the sun during the winter, in the shade during the summer. I watch them grow up. Each child with his own special appeal and then every year on Yom Kippur, right from that community center, I hear them chant, "Who shall live and who shall die". Sometimes my burden is even too heavy for me.

The evenings and into the night is when being here is more exciting. It's all teenagers. See hat entrance? That's a youth center. Since it opened, I don't have a quiet evening. The kids hang out here. The younger ones chew gum and just toss it on the street. A little older and they are sneaking smokes. Yes, I hear them talking. There is a kiosk around the corner that sells loose cigarettes. It's against the law but I know that's where the kids are getting their smokes. Once in a while one of them will stub out his cigarette against my side. That really annoys me. You have to see the rituals of courtship. At age 14, the boys are loud and boisterous. They pretend they don't know the girls are there. Then you have groups of boys pairing off with groups of girls. Some of the groups are louder, some more serious. Later at night they sneak off as couples. I don't know where they go but they always say it's too light here and too open. I hope they are not getting into trouble. Yes, some of them do drugs, some of them misbehave. But they are good kids. They find so many ways to show off, including the smoking. But you want to know the truth? Underneath all that posing and posturing, they are all beautiful kids. Beautiful! Inside and outside and I love each and every one of them. And I know, I just know that after they leave a few will come back. Come back to adorn my sides.

It's been a long day and it's time to rest but I'll make one more confession to you. You can see I'm hard and made of stone, but the moisture that you saw on my sides this morning wasn't only dew. 

 

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Saturday, 16 October 2021

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