Independence Day

Living in Israel is an intense experience, and living in Israel this past week has been an extremely intense experience. We all have been dealing with Remembrance Day for Israel’s soldiers and terror victims this past Tuesday night and Wednesday and with Independence Day that followed it on Wednesday night and Thursday.

I suppose Israel can be compared to one of my children. This was a child who was never indifferent about anything. His anger was anger and his joy was joy and no one could cry more bitterly nor laugh more heartily. I used to say about him that his nerve endings seemed to be closer to his skin surface than others. I called him my passionate child.

And Israel is very much like him; it is a place where emotions are high and contrasting emotions occur simultaneously.

So this week, people were buying memorial candles to light either in memory of their family members who had been killed in military service or terror attacks or in memory of all of our lost soldiers and innocent victims of terror At the same time, people were placing Israeli flags on their homes and their vehicles until the country was plastered with blue and while

All over the newspapers, airwaves, and posters appeared information about the memorial services that took place in cemeteries throughout the country. There was also information about all of the Independence Day concerts, ceremonies, street performances, military fly-bys, and fireworks displays that occurred in cities all over Israel.

Each year, Remembrance Day begins with a siren sounded at eight in the evening for one minute during which everyone and everything falls silent. No vehicles move on the road. No one speaks. After the siren there is a ceremony at the Western Wall that is televised throughout the country. By eight o’clock, all of the stores and restaurants and places of entertainment have closed.

There are memorial events throughout the country. The one we attended was a large gathering at the Jerusalem Convention Center at which family members and friends spoke about their lost loved ones interspersed with appropriate music. Most heartbreaking was listening to David Hatuel whose pregnant wife and four daughters were murdered by Arab terrorists last year. He spoke about them and about missing them, of course, but he also spoke of retaining his faith in G-d.

On Remembrance Day itself, stores are open. Children go to school and commemorate the day with ceremonies there, but the atmosphere is restrained. People seem to talk more quietly and have more patience with one another. Throughout the day, all that is shown on television are stories of those we have lost. One after another child appears in the screen as a baby in mother’s arms, a toddler, a schoolchild, a Bar Mitzvah boy, a few pictures of the teen years and then the terrible news that the family received. Sometimes there are stories of how the person died, his last words, his last video, the one that he was taking at the time of his death. Sometimes there are pictures of the scene—and always, the viewer is left with the feeling of loss and emptiness. One after another the precious lives that were lost become part of our consciousness. This year, musicians found poems written by some of the deceased soldiers and set them to music. Then Israeli artists performed these songs as a tribute to those who wrote the words.

Remembrance Day ends at Mount Herzl, in the area around Herzl’s tomb. There Independence Day is declared and the festivities begin. Just as restrained and solemn as Remembrance Day is, that is how exuberant and enthusiastic Independence Day is.

One of the most beautiful parts of the opening ceremonies is the lighting of the twelve torches, one for each tribe of Israel. People are chosen on the basis of their contribution to the society to light each torch. Each one has a story that inspires. One can’t help but be impressed with the people we live amongst, their myriad origins, cultures, religions, races, languages—that all have been woven into this wonderful crazy tapestry that is Israel.

We spent the later part of the evening in the woods not far from our home with about 50 other people, sitting around a campfire and singing songs to the accompaniment of an accordion and listening to their stories of growing up in Israel or arriving as immigrants in the early days of the state. The air was electric as we heard from afar other people singing too and listened to the booms of the fireworks from several nearby communities.

This morning we ate breakfast on our front patio, sitting in our garden, the sun warming us and our flag waving, and we toasted the next year, praying that that our leaders will make wise decisions and that the country will remain strong.

And then, this afternoon, like just about every other Israeli family, we all got together for a traditional cookout! Our son and daughter-in-law host his family and hers each year and this year the weather was pleasant and the children were cooperative and it was hard to believe that there were over 30 children in the house.

On our way home we heard on the news that all of the parks in the center of the country were completely filled- so much so that people were barbequing on the roadsides. Similarly, all of the beaches between Ashkelon and Herzliya were completely filled. There were traffic jams throughout the country and people were asked to have patience…

The downs and the ups, the sadness and the joy, the loss and the completeness, it’s enough to make one confused and upset. However, I think that this emotional shifting of gears is just one more example of the strength that has helped us as a people survive.

The theme this year for Holocaust Remembrance Day, just a week ago, was the difficulty of liberation. How does one go on after the pain? Yet people did it and formed new families and achieved and prospered. So each year, Israel gets to exercise its emotional muscles and we learn once again that after sadness there can be joy.

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  1. Lil Mager Reidenberg says

    Beautifully written. Happiness & tears for the way Israel is described and how Independence day is celebrated.
    Stay safe and enjoy health and happiness.
    May G-D watch over all of you!

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