The Sacrifices We Don't Think About
Someone forwarded to me a campaign to have people learn Daf Yomi in memory of fallen soldiers. It's a nice way of connecting people in new ways to this important day, despite the fact that according to classical Judaism, you can't actually donate the reward for your Torah study to someone else, just as you can't be nice on behalf of someone else. But if the goal is to think about the sacrifices made, then while having people note a random name before their studies is better than nothing, it's more valuable to spend time actually thinking about the sacrifices made.
Yom HaZikaron this year marks the lives of 24,068 people that were lost in defense of the Land of Israel since 1860, the year that the first Jewish settlers left the secure walls of Jerusalem to build new Jewish neighborhoods. There are an additional 4,216 civilian terror victims.
The losses are agonizing, but there are even more sacrifices that people don't necessarily think about. While Yom HaZikaron officially (as far as I can ascertain) commemorates only those who lost their lives, there are of course many thousands of others who have been terribly injured, in many cases with their lives effectively destroyed, to a greater or lesser degree.
This year, it occurred to me that such tragic sacrifices are themselves even greater than we realize. When we think about the horrifically injured, we think about people who have lost limbs. But there is an entire additional category of people who suffered no physical injury whatsoever, and yet are genuine suffering victims.
I'm talking about those who psychologically suffer. Tel Aviv and numerous other cities in Israel are no longer having fireworks displays on Independence Day, due to concerns about military veterans who suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Unfortunately, many people don't understand the seriousness of this.
Recently I read a bestselling but very sad book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk, a pioneer in the field of psychological trauma. It's a very painful read about how deep trauma, whether from abuse or military action, can cause the most terrible damage to a person. This can surface a while after combat, and can last for decades.
The tragedy of PTSD was brought home to me this morning, when a friend told me that he is collecting money for a local combat veteran. This man, in his sixties, was on the front lines in the 1982 Lebanon War. He was a hero who saved lives, and he was not physically injured. But he saw his friends die, and he was unable to continue his own life. He is incapable of working and every day is a struggle.
There's not much we can do for those who are no longer in this world, but there's a lot that we can do for the people who are still alive but who have suffered so much as a result of their heroic actions on our behalf.