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Compared to What?

Each year, a few days before Memorial Day, Israel’s Ministry of Defense publishes an updated count of fallen soldiers. Their tally includes not only soldiers killed in combat or during service, but also citizens killed in war or in terrorist activity. Indeed, it includes those who fell in acts of nationalist violence prior to the establishment of the State of Israel – going all the way back to 1860. According to the Ministry of Defense, the total number of fallen stands today at 23,447. That’s a big, sad number. And it doesn’t include the suffering caused to tens of thousands of injured veterans or to the 16,307 bereaved families. One of the most important things I learned from Prof. Seymour Fox, of blessed memory, was that when it comes to numbers, one should always ask: “Compared to what? Is that a lot or a little?” On its own, a number has no size; it’s neither big nor small. Big and small are relative concepts. The story we tell about a given number depends, therefore, on the other numbers we choose as our points of reference. Today, the story I wish to tell compares the number of Israel’s fallen with the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis in just two days, in Kiev and a nearby ravine, Babi Yar, on September 29-30, 1941. Note: This happened before the Wannsee Conference, the Final Solution or the establishment of the death camps. According to Yad Vashem’s database, 33,771 of Kiev’s Jews were murdered in those two days alone. When the sirens sound on Memorial Day, and I stand to attention, I will be focusing on my gratitude to those who gave their lives, and who risk their lives today, to ensure there won’t be another Babi Yar.

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