Between grief and joy, between the Memorial Day for soldiers fallen in the wars and for victims of terror attacks, and the beginning of the festivities for Independence Day in Israel, are exactly 60 seconds. This is the way it has always been for the past 74 years. I keep asking myself: how is it possible for an entire nation, and especially for the vast majority who have personally lost a family member or two, to switch so drastically between pain and joy? The truth is that I, for one, was never able to separate the two. True, I felt the joy, but the pain stayed as well. Bitter-sweet, like the best chocolate, which mixes the two tastes in the right proportion.
Israel is a small country, and as in a small village people’s lives are intertwined. Although time passes, there seems to exist a need for the familiar ceremony. Year in and year out the sirens blare all over the country at 10 AM on Holocaust Memorial Day for one minute, on the eve of the Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers for one minute, and on the day itself at 11 AM for 2 minutes. When the sirens sound, everyone without exception stands at attention – no matter where they are. Cars stop and passengers get out to stand, store owners and customers stand at attention, doctors, nurses, cleaners, and even patients in hospitals stand if they can. During the 60 seconds between the end of the Memorial Day and the beginning of the Independence Day celebrations, a trumpet plays a mournful tune as the flag is lowered to half-mast.
The whole country stops; total silence reigns for at least 60 seconds. This is an unbelievable act of unity and solidarity. A real marvel in a country full of strife and disagreement, where a person heckling the prime minister during his talk to an official gathering of bereaved families got into a shouting match with other members of the audience. The prime minister responded sympathetically: “it is ok to feel pain and speak out.” It is still a democracy. No matter if it is not a perfect one. At least for a few minutes per year there is solidarity. Solidarity between people who understand that we depend on each other. A feeling that if we do not stand together, we will fall apart. I, for one. need to feel that the fallen did not sacrifice their life in vain. That the next generation did not forget them and their mission to establish a safe and peaceful state for the Jewish nation.
I was indeed moved yesterday, at the military cemetery where my brother is buried, to see a sea of white-uniformed navy recruits attending the old gravesides from 1948. These are the ones whose family members are mostly absent. At my brother’s graveside stood a young soldier who was eager to hear firsthand information about Gedalya. He, like each of them, received a name and researched all he could about the person. He knew a lot, yet was eager and honored to meet me and my husband and fill in the gaps. I felt that the torch was handed over to the next generation. I felt that remembering is not an empty slogan. I felt that we are forging another link in the chain of history. To remember, not to forget. To learn about the past in order to improve the future. When we parted, his words to me were: “It was an honor for me to meet with you, an inspiration.”
Independence Day celebration this year started with 60 seconds of standing to attention, as usual, before a silent display of fireworks. Silent, in order not to trigger many of the post traumatic people with the sounds of explosions. Beautiful fireworks without sound. For once the pure beauty of colored paintings on the dark skies above. The theme of the evening was unity. Hand holding hand. Dancers in wheelchairs on stage were accompanied by partners who enabled them to perform magically-inspired moves. The music was created to symbolize love and acceptance. The highlight for me was the 12 people chosen to light the torches symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel. All of them, men and women, are people who gave from themselves to society. From the rabbi who established homes for disabled youth and adults to live with dignity all over the country to the woman who took in 127 unwanted babies and nurtured them until they were adopted, to the woman who shared her story of being raped by her father for years, and established an association which helps men and women who underwent sexual trauma to heal. There was also the pilot who lost his legs, established a family, and studied law, who is now helping other veterans, as well as the Paralympic basketball player who trains and inspires others. In addition the parents of an LGBTQ woman, killed by a fanatic at a pride parade, were recognized for working to promote tolerance. Also among the honorees was Rita, the unique singer who inspires us all with her blending of eastern and western music. A feast for the eyes, ears and soul.
It indeed felt like an inspiration to me, an inspiration of hope that we are heading into a more compassionate and caring era. More united in acceptance of each other and inclusion into society of marginalized populations. As I was writing all this, I heard from the other room the all too familiar sounds of the TV announcer reporting another horrible terror attack. Three people were killed and 3 others gravely wounded by axe and bullets. The 2 terrorists are still at large at this point. Just as I was starting to feel hope and inspiration, the peace is shattered again. We are still living the words of the poet Alterman, author of “the 7th column” for the newspaper Davar on December 19, 1947, from his poem “The Silver Platter,” which he wrote in response to the head of the Zionist movement Dr. Haim Weitzman, who said in Atlantic City: “no state has been handed to us on a silver platter.”