Mount Herzl is the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever visited. This was the semi-crass observation floating through my twenty one year old mind as I was nearly nine years ago and I was on my first trip Israel, subsidized of course. I was in the middling days and I was about to receive the second part of a one-two emotional gut punch. We were about to be shown the graves of the youngest soldiers buried in Israel’s cemetery dedicated to the men and women who died defending their country.
After a sleepless night spent staring at the stars above the Negev desert, I lumbered up Masada, right before taking a much-deserved dip in Ein Gedde. Once dry, we hopped on the bus where I saw Jerusalem for the first time; the Old City skyline lacking skyscrapers, but still many memorable features. We then were the compulsory tour of Yad Vashem, with our tour guide Yishai giving his unwavering, prosaic and inspired oration as he did for the entire ten days. Leaving the national holocaust museum left me emotionally vulnerable. We then entered the Har Hazikaron, The breathtaking canopied sanctuary was solemn and silent. We were traveling with six soldiers, who from time to time, would drop off to stand by the graves of fallen loved ones. One second they would be there, the next they would be seen kneeling and weeping by random stone with Hebrew inscriptions that at the time I was unable to decipher, except for the numbers which I could read, 23, 20, 19, the ages of the buried. As we got further, some of the numbers were impossibly low, 17…15…10.
Ten? TEN?! Yishai then told the amazing story of Nissim Gini. Gini was a Turkish-born Israeli born in 1938, who was in the Jewish During the war of independence, It was not uncommon for the young to be volunteer as couriers, ferrying information through the lines or as a lookout, trying to relay enemy positions. On May 27th 1948. I looked back at my soldier friends crouched over their friends. I thought about my best friend’s brother who was ten at the time. The tears came.
On Yom Hazikaron, we remember the fallen, the innumerable kedoshim who sacrificed everything. All too often though, each name becomes one of many, nullified by the thousands that came before and after. But for just once, on this day, I’ll remember Nissim Gini whose bravery beyond his years left him with a life cut short.
After we were done paying our respects, we got back on the bus. We then went to The Kotel, where I put on tefillin for the first time, it was a great honor; an honor that Nissim Gini who fell three years before his bar mitzvah, was never afforded.