On Memorial Day (which this year begins on Tuesday night May 7), Israel does not just remember its fallen soldiers—it also embraces the bereaved families. In practice, what this means is that there is a kind of “open house” at the homes of most bereaved families. If you are friendly with a bereaved person, you try to visit them on Memorial Day, though given the unfortunately large number of bereaved families, you might not get to everyone on your list each year.
This custom was powerfully brought home to me a few years ago. I had become friendly with Yossi Uziel, the bereaved father of Gabi Uziel, who died in combat in 2003 at the age of 20. A few days after Memorial Day that year, word got back to me that Yossi was disappointed that I hadn’t visited him. I have tried not to let that happen again.
You can’t have an “open house” in Israel without providing guests with refreshments, and were it not for helpful friends and relatives, bereaved families would be overwhelmed on Memorial Day. For many years now my daughter Ruthie (28) has been one of the key helpers at the home of Miriam Peretz, just up the block from us. Miriam is bereaved of her son Uriel, who died in combat in Lebanon in 1998 at the age of 23; and of Eliraz, who died in combat in Gaza in 2010 at the age of 31, leaving behind a wife and four small children. (Last year, Miriam, an educator, was awarded the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement; Miriam’s Song, a book about her life was translated into English in 2016). Ruthie has been friends since childhood with Miriam’s youngest child, Bat-El. I asked Ruthie about what she does every Memorial Day and about why doing so is important to her.
The Peretz family returns from the Mt. Herzl military cemetery around 12:30 p.m. on Memorial Day (having stood near the graves of Uriel and of Eliraz during the nationwide 2-minute 11:00 am siren). Ruthie starts working at 1:00 pm and for the next five hours does not stop. Ruthie’s main task at the Peretz home on Memorial Day is to act as head waitress. The order of the day is vegetable soup served on hand-made couscous (all cooked by Miriam’s sister Zahava). There’s also hot and cold drinks, snacks, and ices for the kids, including Miriam’s grandchildren.
The eldest Peretz daughter Hadas—and only Hadas—ladles out the soup. She has developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the exact portion to be given to each guest as well as the precise proportions of couscous to soup. Miriam and her family are well-known in Israel, and many hundreds of people pass through the Peretz home each Memorial Day afternoon. Guests include high-ranking army officers, philanthropists from abroad, and government officials. Besides serving, Ruthie’s other tasks include clearing up, taking out the garbage, rearranging tables and chairs, and in general being at the beck and call of Miriam.
Why is Ruthie so committed to being at the Peretz home? Ruthie told me: “Years ago I understood that the Peretz family needs a lot of help on Memorial Day. Bat-El is one of my best friends. I’m a person who loves to help so I come and help. It’s the least I can do. They rely on me and they like me. I also have to say that Miriam feels very comfortable with me and so she has no problem ordering me around.” Ruthie adds: “The bereaved families always say that every day for them is Memorial Day. On Memorial Day it’s our chance to show that we remember them.”
TEDDY WEINBERGER is director of development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from miami, where he was an assistant professor of religous studies. Teddy and his wife, sarah jane ross, have five children.