Don’t smile

Don’t smile

Maybe it was better in the old days, in those days when smiling for photos was not the custom.

There were many reasons for those grim photos of our ancestors but Facebook exemplifies that photos posted today are to be filled with happy smiling faces, just like in your wedding album. Your bad teeth should no longer be considered a determinant, since you most probably benefited from orthodontia and are now blessed with a brilliant smile. Whatever the reason, there is something so tragic and hopelessly sad about viewing the always smiling portraits of Israel’s deceased soldiers. I cannot reconcile myself to these photos and their names in the newspapers.

There is no pattern. They come from all over Israel. Years ago there was often a preponderance of kibbutzniks. I don’t know whether that disparity still exists. I doubt that it does. I see names from Herzliya where we lived off and on for over 20 years and I wonder. Was he the son of the barber or was he the boy who delivered groceries or was he a kid in the neighborhood playing soccer in the parking lot? Was he one of my sister’s English students? I won’t ask her. I don’t want or need to know.

He died in service to our Land, and that is enough for me to mourn him, to shed tears for him and to know his death is a tragic loss, to know his parents will miss him, and his unborn progeny, and his care and attention to them in their old age. They will always say, for the rest of their lives, that it was their lives which should have been taken, not his. They are correct. To no avail.

These chayalim, these soldiers, are so full of life as they gaze directly into the camera, making full, uninhibited eye contact. In some there is whimsy, a crooked grin perhaps, an insouciant look of fake ferocity masking a gentleness that can only be imputed.

There is no fear detectable. These young people, mostly men, do not at all expect to be in the next day’s papers as dead victims of war. They do not expect that their parents will receive the dreaded knock on the door, that their siblings, laughing with heartbreaking sobs at graveside, will recount the funny stories of growing up together, remembering and knowing that there will be no more together tales, that childhood has suffered its tragic and final conclusion.

They, those who have been lost in battle, believed that they would survive. They have told their loved ones that they will be careful, that the IDF has trained them on techniques to avoid friendly fire, and that they are well protected by their equipment, their bulletproof vests and their helmets, that they will come home safely. The statistics support their arguments.

While the death toll is horrifying, most will survive. Each one considers himself to be part of that optimism. Yes, most will survive, but we all, as a nation, as a people, shed tears, agonizing tears, for those who won’t.

Their smiling photos belie it all. We see them in the prime of their young lives, cocky and confident. It is almost impossible to imagine the mask of death on those faces. Verily, it is impossible. We weep together as a nation. We are all their mothers, their fathers, their sisters and brothers. We are each their wives and their children. And their grandparents. The horror of losing them is unbearable.

My tears stain the page. Baruch dayan ha emet.

Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of four. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was! She welcomes email at

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