Last week was Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day) and today is Yom HaZicharon (Memorial Day to honor and remember those killed while serving in the army and by terrorists). For each day, sirens wail across the country for a minute. Literally everything comes to a standstill (unless you’re not a Zionirst in which case you on Yom HaZicharon, you davka continue with your day during the sirens). Buses, cars and trucks all stop and engines are turned off. Everyone stops whatever they are doing. Everyone stands motionless and bows their head. The nursery across the street from me that is filled with kids playing outside all day is suddenly quiet. The barking dogs and screeching cats in my neighborhood cannot be heard.
I find it an extraordinary and powerful experience for the nation to collectively stop, remember, and honor. It’s serious and respectful. War and terrorism are part of everyone’s lives here. There’s collective grief, trauma and sorrow that are reflected upon, discussed and processed as a nation on these days via events, social media, news, and socially from the political right and left, religious and secular, Zionist and anti-Zionist, Arab and Jewish (who fits into which categories is not always neatly delineated). The days observances continue beyond the sirens. Stores close early. There aren’t any tacky, inappropriate shopping sales or three-day holiday weekend specials, like in the US on Veterans and Memorial Days. There are memorial events in the evening and during the day throughout the country for both holidays. I attended an event last night at a nearby school for all of the former students who had been killed. It was a long list and there were thousands of people there. It was powerful, painful and personal for most everyone.
Tonight, as Yom HaZicharon concludes, we transition into Yom HaAtzmaut, the Israeli Independence Day, that is a national celebration (again, assuming you are a Zionist). It’s a reversal of emotions, like going to a funeral and then a wedding.
Growing up in Washington, DC, I thought it was the most patriotic place I’d ever lived. While people’s national pride was on display in a disproportionate way throughout the year, especially compared with other places in the US, it swelled for the July 4th holiday.
Let me say, that Israel puts the US to shame regarding national pride. Since about Pesach, in honor of all of the national holidays, culminating in Yom HaAtzmaut, there are Israeli flags hanging from every lamppost, apartment balconies, cars, scooters and buildings. I do think that the car-dealership style blue and white streamers stretching from buildings roofs are tacky (see picture at right). Everything in Israel is personal and familial. No matter what your politics or allegiance is to Israel, these divergent holidays encapsulate much of the Jewish experience and narrative and are yet one more example of how everyone is so connected in this tiny country with only 8 million people.