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In Israel on Yom Ha'Shoah and Yom Ha'Zikaron a siren sounds everything stops and people observe a moment of silence.

Danita Aziza:Forgive but Never Forget -From Her Book Finding Home: A Journey of Life Lessons in the Land of Israel launched June 23 at McNally Robinson.

by Danita Aziza, April 14, 2015



I had mixed feelings having two of our kids studying at an international school in Israel instead of an Israeli school, but there were also some wonderful gifts that accompanied the experience. The greatest benefit was the opportunity to get to know a very special group of people from diverse backgrounds and cultures who were in Israel for different reasons, or who were Israelis and opted to send their children to the American International School.


Rachel, our youngest daughter, formed a quick friendship with Maya, an Israeli girl in her class who spoke impeccable English. They fast became friends and through their friendship, Michel and I were introduced to Maya’s parents, Judy Argov Orbach and Itzik Orbach.


Judy and Itzik were special in their own right. Itzik is a former army helicopter pilot and a talented industrial designer who runs his own business. Judy, an entrepreneur and a master of languages, studied at many American schools in the world. Judy’s father, the late Shlomo Argov z”l, was Israel’s ambassador to England and by all accounts was a brilliant gentleman who possessed unique qualities. Many believed he was poised to be the prime minister of Israel one day. 


In 1982, at the age of fifty-two, Ambassador Argov was shot in the head by Arab terrorists while leaving a state dinner in London. He was left physically and mentally impaired, and confined to a hospital for over twenty-two years until his death in 2003. His attempted assassination was the impetus for the first Lebanon War, named Operation Peace for Galilee, which began on June 6, 1982.


On the eve of our second Yom HaZikaron in Israel (Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror), Judy and Itzik invited michel and me to accompany them to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem for the annual memorial ceremony for the sixteen ministry employees who lost their lives serving in various postings throughout the world. Many of the sixteen were new fathers and mothers who left spouses to raise children alone. Some were young employees of the ministry and others were seasoned diplomats representing the Jewish state in Israeli embassies in Turkey, Argentina, England and Nigeria.


A large canvas canopy covered several rows of collapsible plastic chairs and we found a place to sit just behind Itzik and Judy. Within a few moments of everyone being seated, a man dressed in a dark suit and tie solemnly announced that the ceremony would begin with the lighting of the Wall of Remembrance. I could see clearly from my seat the brass plaques inscribed with the names of each former member of the Foreign Ministry. Michel and I sat dumbfounded and motionless as we observed family members rise from their seats and then slowly walk toward the wall when the name of their loved one was called. The soft background singing of a children’s choir offset the uncomfortable silence. As two boys in their late teens got up from their chairs in the aisle in front of us, Michel leaned over and whispered to me, “Their mother would have been pregnant in 1992 when the embassy attack in Buenos Aires took place.”  The heaviness that I felt in my heart crept up to my throat as I watched in disbelief as the two handsome young adults in unison solemnly ignited a flame in memory of a father they never knew.


The ceremony culminated with the grandchild of one of the victims reciting Kaddish (a Jewish prayer recited by a mourner), in a way that suggested he was all too familiar with the words. Even though these families attended this service year after year, it appeared to me that there was nothing routine or mundane in its nature. The pain of loss was etched in the lines that marked the faces of each family member left behind. Yet, as I gazed out at them mingling amongst the crowd following the service, I was struck by the strength and resolve in their demeanour.


Many times I heard my friend Judy speak of her father – of the incredible contributions he made to Israel, his love of culture and the arts, his superior oratory skills, the interest he took in the younger generation of Israelis and the respect he commanded from colleagues and peers. As Judy rose to light the final torch on the Foreign Ministry’s remembrance wall, I realized that I never heard her speak of the terrorists who robbed her of the father she loved and admired so much. I also didn’t detect a hint of anger or bitterness on the faces of the others who stood silently at the wall ... remembering. How odd that seemed to me as an outsider, but perhaps not to the members of the club who had to continue on with daily life, raising families, sending children to the army and remaining devoted to their country.


While honoured to be part of the tekes (ceremony), I felt very much a stranger and almost an intruder in the community of those who knew the ultimate sacrifice for being Israeli. The families we sat amongst were part of a very large group of the bereaved who have known sorrow, tragedy and sacrifice, all in the name of living in, representing or defending the land of Israel.


Images and snippets of dialogue from those emotional days of remembrance were inscribed in my memory. While I watched Remembrance Day ceremonies on television and participated in numerous Yom Ha’Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and Yom HaZikaron services for years in Canada, it wasn’t until I witnessed in Israel the mourning of an entire nation so significantly touched by loss, that I fully comprehended the implications of providing service to a country.


I haven’t forgotten the sight of a woman not much older than me kneeling, weeping and chanting over and over again, “Lama, lama, lama?” (Why, why, why?) at the grave site of her twenty-year-old son who was killed in the Second Lebanon War. I have often thought about a four-year-old boy dressed in white T-shirt, customary clothing for the day of mourning, who walked in front of me on a street in Netanya and stopped immediately and without prompting as soon as he heard the piercing siren that signalled the start of Yom HaZikaron.


My exposure to Israel’s tangible ways of remembering reinforced my belief that I was extremely privileged to be living in the Jewish homeland. Whenever I questioned whether I was meant to be there, which I honestly sometimes did, I turned my thoughts to the six million who were slaughtered because there was no Jewish state, and the over 24,000 soldiers and civilians who lost their lives because there was. Not forgetting that brutal fact fuelled my determination to ensure that Israel would not just be my homeland, but would always be my home.


Danita's book Finding Home:  A Journey of Life Lessons in the Land of Israel will be launched on June 23 at McNally Robinson.

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