Coronavirus and Constitutional Crises Make Independence Day 2020 No Less Depressing Than Memorial Day

The Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery was inaugurated in 1931 as Tel Aviv’s second graveyard, after the first, Trumpeldor, reached capacity. Like most cemeteries, Nahalat Yitzhak was originally built on what were then deserted outskirts and is now part of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, between the city and the sleepy suburb of Givatayim, where I live.

I often visit the military section of the cemetery on my daily walks. Most of the 1,151 soldiers interred at Nahalat Yitzhak died in the 1948 War of Independence: The large number of casualties and limited area of the cemetery soon required the inauguration of a third and much larger cemetery, at Kiryat Shaul. The graves at Nahalat Yitzhak are identical and well kept: Most of the soldiers buried there died in battle 72 years ago, but their graves look as if they were interred yesterday.

I usually walk slowly past a single row in the cemetery, making a point of reading the identical headstones, which contain the names of the fallen, their countries of origin, their dates of birth and the time and place of their deaths. Most of the soldiers died in their late teens or early twenties. Many were Holocaust survivors, men and women alike, who came to Israel after the Second World War, enlisted in the army and were killed shortly thereafter.

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Chana Offenberg, for example, was born in Berlin in 1931, hid with her family in Brussels throughout the war, came to Israel in 1946, served as a medic at Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzhak and was killed in an Egyptian attack on July 15, 1948. She was 17.

Or Moshe Ovadia, born in the Old City of Jerusalem and orphaned at a young age. He died at the age of 20 in the battle for Tel Aviv. Hungarian-born Yisrael Einhorn, whose family was murdered by the Nazis, came to Israel in June 1947 and was killed 11 months later in the Negev. Esther Chechik Artzberg died at the age of 20 in an Egyptian air strike on Tel Aviv.

And then there is the mysterious William Wordsworth, who came to Israel from England in 1947, enlisted in the army and died of an illness in 1950 while on active duty, at the age of 25.  He left behind a wife, sketchy details about his background and an enduring mystery about the origins of his poetic name.

The cemetery is mainly deserted throughout most of the year. Many of those buried there were not survived by relatives or were simply forgotten over the seven decades that have passed. As I pay my respects, I am usually comforted by the fact that the place would be teeming on the official Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers – but not this year.