The Haunting Beauty of Jerusalem Stone on Yom HaZikaron
Jerusalem Stone is the gorgeous, pale, off-white limestone found everywhere in Israel. Many of you will recognize it as the stone that comprises the Kotel, the Wailing/Western Wall in Jerusalem. When you see Jerusalem Stone, you immediately think of Israel/הארץ, literally “the Land (of Israel).” Every day of the year when you see Jerusalem Stone, you think of Israel and Jerusalem. But, on Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and terrorist victims), Jerusalem Stone takes on an added meaning and morbid beauty as every Israeli cannot see the stone without crying or holding back tears.
That is because Israel uses Jerusalem Stone for every grave belonging to a *Fallen Israeli Soldier. So this stone, which is a literal demarcation for the holiest city in Israel, also embodies the cost of defending Israel. Regardless of rank or even religion, if you fell defending Israel, you are buried beneath Jerusalem Stone. Therefore, these soldiers and victims of terror will quite literally spend eternity as part of the Land of Israel while everybody who graces their graves sees one of the most Israeli-centric objects on earth. Israel purposely makes it impossible to extricate the connection between the Fallen Israeli soldier and the Land of Israel. It is the Jerusalem Stone that encapsulates all of that.
*(Hebrew has a specific word for a soldier that died in battle “naphal/נפל,” which means “fall,” hence the capitalization of the phrase and word in this article)
Seeing Jerusalem Stone on Yom HaZikaron is to See Israel
Ironically, Jerusalem Stone is quite beautiful. Although it marks the graves of every Fallen Soldier, it is still–objectively–aesthetically pleasing. It is a light-colored stone that captures the essence of Israel; tough and sturdy while defying expectations. Despite almost unending sunlight in Israel, the whitish stone somehow does not blind people when they gaze upon it. But there is a blinding quality to it brought about by the tears of Israelis as they look at the Jerusalem Stone graves.
And the tears do flow. The tears flow for, as Danny Danon so eloquently put it, all the “hopes and dreams that will never be realized.” Israelis know what it takes to defend a nation the size of New Jersey. Every family, every person, every Israeli knows somebody who Fell. There is no escaping it in Israel. But Israelis are the toughest breed on earth; instead of running away from the pain and hurt, they embrace it. They embrace the pain, and in turn, they embrace life because they intimately know it is fleeting.
The Stone and Mortar That Comprises Eretz Yisrael
That is why the beauty of Jerusalem Stone is so fitting; the beauty of the Jerusalem Stone is intertwined with the pain of remembrance and the knowledge that life is fleeting, much like Yom HaZikaron itself. But because of Yom HaZikaron, Israelis know there is a time for grieving and a time for celebration. It is why many Israelis cannot comprehend America’s Memorial Day. Why, if we are honoring our dead soldiers on Memorial Day, would we dare to celebrate that same day?
The answer lies in Israel’s Independence Day, Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Just as Israel transitions from grieving and mourning the loss of its Fallen by following it up the next day with a celebration of independence, Americans mourn the loss of its soldiers by celebrating what makes America great (namely; its soldiers, yes, but also grilling, drinking, and blowing things up). Most Americans though never take the time or care enough to mourn and memorialize their soldiers on Memorial Day, which is completely inexplicable to Israelis.
But Americans do not have a Jerusalem Stone. Jerusalem Stone itself is the constant memorial for Israelis. It is still standing in Jerusalem as the literal building blocks of the Kotel, and a testament to Israel’s strength and perseverance. So when I see Jerusalem Stone, I mourn, but I also celebrate. I celebrate because I know Jerusalem Stone is the foundation block for the land of Israel while its people–and specifically its soldiers–are the mortar. And that mortar is why the edifice known as Eretz Yisrael will never crumble.