Across the river, papyrus rustles, a land mine explodes, and a wounded soldier cries out in pain. Within seconds, a medic rushes to his side, dodging a barrage of bullets.
"Leave me here," gasps the soldier. "Save yourself!"
"I am staying with you," the medic replies.
Fierce enemy fire strafes the field, wounding the brave medic. At last, friendly troops arrive. "We're saved," exults the soldier. But only a deathly silence greets his glee.
"My brother!" he cries. "My brother!"
While serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1954, Dan Almagor heard reports about a brave medic's tragic death. Inspired by the young man's sacrifice, Almagor wrote a poem immortalizing him. The memorial remained unpublished for 14 years, but stayed close to his heart. When his friend Effi Netzer, a well-known composer, suggested to Almagor that they write a song for the 1969 Israel Song Festival, the melancholy poem sprang instantly to mind. Their collaboration, titled "Ballada Lahovesh" ("Ballad to the Medic"), not only won first prize at the festival, but also became the official song of the IDF Medical Corps. (Log on to babaganewz.com to listen to the song.)
Today, most Israelis hear "Ballada Lahovesh" only once a year, when it's played on the radio during Yom Hazikaron, Israel's Memorial Day--which falls this year on May 2. Nonetheless, it remains well known and touches the hearts of all who hear it. "This ultimate act of friendship between two young soldiers speaks to everyone," Almagor explains. "Especially in Israel, where army operations are frequent and soldiers are often wounded. In fact," he continues, "many families in Israel are convinced that this song was written about their own sons."
Unlike military service in the United States, army service in the Jewish state is mandatory. "Each of us serves on active duty for three years and then in the reserves until we're 50," Almagor says. "Often a family will have two generations serving simultaneously--father and son or daughter. It's even possible for three or four generations of veterans in one family to observe Yom Hazikaron together."
As a result, Memorial Day in Israel is far more personal and emotional than similar observances in America, says Almagor. "The blow of losing someone who served in the army is universal in Israel. We knew these people. Their loss is very direct and very painful. It affects every moshav, every kibbutz, and every neighborhood."
The most poignant observance of shared grief on Yom Hazikaron brings the bustling nation to a complete standstill. At precisely 11:00 a.m., civil defense sirens throughout the country wail for two, seemingly unending, minutes. All activity stops--no one works, no one plays, and no one drives a car. Wherever they are, people stand in silent respect for the fallen.
As the sun sets, Yom Hazikaron ends and Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) begins. Mournful memories and sad songs fade into the twilight. The nation stirs with more joyous memories. Aroused now by military marches, folk ballads, and even pop music, Israelis recall the fruits of their sacrifices--the victories that have ensured that the events of May 14, 1948, will endure. On that historic day, the People's Council in Eretz Yisrael gathered in Tel Aviv and announced to the world that, henceforth, the Jewish people will be "masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State."
Ballad to the Medic
They moved forward slowly, everything was calm.
Across the river the papyrus rustled.
Suddenly, thunder and lightning!
Someone shouted, “Wounded!”
“I’m on my way,” answered the medic.
“We hit a mine,” the wounded yelled.
“I am here by your side,” answered the medic.
A hail of fire flowed, hail heavy and fragmented,
Across the river, by the stirring papyrus.
“Leave me here,” the wounded requested.
“Cut the nonsense,” the medic replied.
“Save yourself!” the wounded requested.
“I’m staying with you,” the medic replied.
And it was the two of them in the open field,
And it was the two of them open to fire.
“We are lost!” stammered the wounded.
“Hold me tight,” the medic replied.
“You’ve been wounded too!” stammered the wounded.
“Leave it, it’s not terrible,” the medic replied.
The fire was terribly heavy and it was hard to continue.
Just don’t despair.
Just don’t despair.
“I’ll remember you forever!” the wounded swore.
“Just don’t fall,” the medic stammered.
“I am yours until the day you die,” the wounded swore.
“Today is the day I die,” the medic replied.
Suddenly a dusty cloud, suddenly a wind came up
And there was a shadow on the ground, close and noisy.
“We’re saved! They’re coming!” sobbed the wounded.
But he didn’t hear a word from the medic.
“My brother! My brother!” wailed the wounded.
Across the river, the papyrus rustled.