Guest Column by Shani Weinmann

Yom HaZikaron. A day of remembrance for fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

I’ve always connected to this holiday, even at school, where the ceremony was only a small part of the day. At night, though, I really felt the connection as the Atlanta Jewish community gathered together at Ahavath Achim Synagogue to lay the wreaths, sing the songs and tell the stories. As a member Bnei Akiva, I got to participate in flag waving during “Hatikva,” and I will never forget the pride I took in wearing my Bnei Akiva uniform.

Now, however, everything has changed. I think maybe a small part of me has always known that I would be standing where I am on this Yom HaZikaron — on the brink of entering the Israel Defense Forces with so many questions as to what the next two years of my life will entail.

I hear the word “soldier,” and my shoulders straighten. I walk down the streets of Jerusalem on Friday and see soldiers bustling around to catch the bus home. I see them again on Sunday trudging back to base. They know nothing of their future but just live day to day, doing their service to the country.

I see in my head a mirror image of myself, but in uniform. Next year at this time I will be standing in the exact same position as I am now — facing the grave of a dead hero — but it will be as part of what that person died for.

In the span of a few months, the day has become more emotional than ever, and I feel a weight on my being as I walk through the day. I cannot help the tears from falling randomly as I think about what Israel means to me and why on earth I have chosen to take this path.

I could be just crazy, as my cousin said. Or maybe I have just realized that a life without a mission isn’t much of a life at all.

I have a desire to reach out on a large scale and inspire, and I know what kind of message enlisting sends to the ones back home. If a simple girl from Georgia can join the IDF and make a difference, then why can’t anyone else?

This country is too important to lose, and I am reminded of that every day, but especially on Yom HaZikaron. I step into the shoes of someone who gave up life because of the knowledge that living without Israel is an existence that would lack meaning to the Jews and, quite frankly, to the world.

I heard a man on the train the other day who was speaking to an Israeli woman about how his visit changed his perception of Israel. “Before I came, I was frightened of this country because of what I saw on the news, but now I see a country that is vibrant with life.”

I have been thinking about this statement and how true it is. These soldiers have given their lives so this country could create life. Without the sacrifice, there would not be the bright culture we see today or the ability to improve the world with technological advancements.

Yom HaZikaron has become a harder day for me, but also a more hopeful one. It is time for me to accept my place among the chaos so that the heroes on Mount Herzl will not have died in vain. It is time for Israel to be my home.

Atlanta native Shani Weinmann grew up in Toco Hills and attended Torah Day School of Atlanta and graduated from the Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School in 2015. After her gap year at Midreshet Harova, she is joining the IDF. This column originally appeared as a Times of Israel blog post.