Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Happy Birthday Israel!

Nobody who knows me would accuse me of being overly sentimental (with the exception of Maor who makes me watch Cellcom commercials and waits for me to tear up).
But every year starting at Pesach I get emotional, and not because of the cleaning (well, not exclusively anyway).

First the flags start going up. I notice them first on the highway on my daily drive to work. Then when I drive to Kfar Saba I see Israeli flags and blue and white streamers gracing the streets. Finally, my own yishuv and inter-city roads join the fray, and it seems like I cannot go more than a few kilometers without viewing that proud blue and white flag blowing in the wind.

The whole country seems to be gearing up for the next few weeks, a time of introspection and reckoning. Articles about Holocaust survivors finishing their lives alone and in poverty, accusing the establishment of only caring at this time of year but not doing anything to help them, are printed. Articles about how the last of the survivors are dying and soon nobody will be left. And when Yom Hashoah finally arrives, the entire country takes note. Stores and restaurants close early. There are no cultural performances scheduled – no plays, no movies, no concerts. The music being broadcast on the radio changes to a somber playlist. The regular tv schedule is gone, replaced by official ceremonies, Holocaust movies, interviews with survivors. 

And at 10am the next morning, a two minute siren sounds. Throughout the country, cars stop, people stand, heads bowed, lost in their own thoughts. An entire country. Stops. Stands still. Remembers.

 And then a week later, it all happens AGAIN! The early closing of businesses, the somber playlist, the changed tv schedule. The cemeteries are visited by a nation of people who come to remember the 23,169 people who gave their lives while serving the country and the 2,495 citizens killed in terror attacks.

I began the Yom Hazikaron commemoration in Yerushalayim, at the Sultan’s Pool, at an event called זוכרים שרים ומספרים (Remembering, singing, and telling the story) which incorporates the stories of the fallen along with musical performances, including a choir of bereaved fathers. You cannot imagine the feeling of standing in Jerusalem with the walls of the old city to your right, listening to Rav Yisrael Meir Lau talk about the fallen, and say that he carries a prayer in his heart that we should be worthy of the 23,169 who gave their lives, worthy in our daily actions and in our relationships between man and his fellow man, before quoting Natan Alterman’s famous poem, מגש הכסף (A silver platter).

Those of us who do not participate in ceremonies at a cemetery go to work for half a day. This is the memorial stand that the director of operations in my company set up:

And at 11:00am the siren sounded, and again, the entire country stood still and remembered.

There are many bereaved families who have a hard time with the sharp transition from the sadness of Yom Hazikaron to the joy of Yom Haatzmaut, and while I certainly understand and respect them, it feels so fitting to segue from one to the other. I discovered, while working on my 66 question Israel trivia quiz to be debuted at our barbecue this afternoon, that in fact, Yom Hazikaron was instituted nine years before Yom Haatzmaut, and Rav Shlomo Goren, former Chief Rabbi of Tzahal and later of Israel said in a television interview in 1994 that it was only by chance that these two days are side by side.

At any rate, Yom Haatzmaut is THE day, with people visiting the many museums and sites open for free, hiking, or relaxing at home (but alas not sleeping late) before barbecuing with family or friends. You can read about why it’s great to live in Israel, including Benji Lovitt’s 66 things I love about Israel or watch the international Bible quiz. This follows the celebrations organized in almost all municipalities, large and small, beginning at the close of Yom Hazikaron and lasting until the early morning hours of Yom Haatzmaut.

I hope this post has convinced those of you living abroad to pack your bags and move to Israel before Israel celebrates her 67th birthday. I for one am both grateful and happy that I get to spend every day living here.