"Who am I?" Was the first thought that ran through Miriam Peretz's mind when she was asked to do the honor of lighting a torch for Independence Day. "What am I?" She stresses. "I'm a simple person... They wouldn't have heard of me if it wasn't for my sons," she explains, referring to fallen Golani Brigade soldiers Uriel and Eliraz, the former who was killed in Lebanon in 1998 at the age of 22, and the latter who was slain in Gaza in 2010, at age 31.
She says that while each of the 14 women selected for the ceremony represents something different, she did not choose to represent anyone - "reality brought me to this situation," she tells The Jerusalem Post. But she did choose to pick her herself up, out of the pain and bereavement and to build from it a "tower of love - love of Israel, and the human strength to influence your own and other people's lives.” When Peretz received the phone call about the ceremony she was at a navy course as part of her daily hasbara work in which she meets with soldiers, youth and bereaved families and delivers motivational speeches. She immediately told her children, who said they had been sure this day would come. She then went and spoke to the pictures of her two fallen sons, and told them that they would be lighting the torch "with their spirit, spirit of leadership, faith, love for the country, love for people." She then stood before a picture of her late husband and said, "You always said that the day would when they would recognize what a special woman you married."
But as Yom Haatzmaut approaches, Peretz's excitement begins to be overshadowed by a sense of anxiety. The sadness sets in every year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and marks the beginning of a complex week both physically and mentally for the bereaved wife and mother. She elaborates that this year, because of her participation in the ceremony, will be particularly hard. Usually on Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, after she visits her sons at Israel's national cemetery, Mount Herzl -- which she describes as her second home -- she receives visits from some 500 people who come to pay their respects. After everyone has left, and the end of the day of mourning dovetails with the beginning of festive Independence Day celebrations, she closes her door in Givat Ze’ev and goes to bed. "I can't take the sound of the fireworks," Peretz explains, saying that with each bang she hears the sound of the explosions that took the lives of her sons.
"But this year I will experience it, and I'm scared to be in this simcha (happiness) after the hardest day," she says candidly. "Suddenly, fireworks and dancing."
Grappling with her mixed emotions, Peretz strategizes how to cope with the tough transition: "Either I will close my ears and lower my eyes to the ground, and be with my sons when the fireworks go off, or I'll lift my eyes to the sky and I'll follow a firework and hope it will open the skies and that I'll see my family - and that they'll see that they didn't fall in vain, that a nation is celebrating, that life goes on."
But for all this, she wouldn't change this national framework for marking Remembrance Day and Independence Day. "Life is a mixture of pain and hope - it's everything together.”
Peretz, whose family made aliya from Morocco when she was a little girl, says she has experienced the price of both war and peace; her family was evacuated from Sharm el-Sheikh, in Sinai, when the peace treaty was signed between Israel and Egypt in 1979. Her wish for the coming years is that there will be solidarity between Israelis, regardless of their varying opinions: "We must remember that we're brothers." Further than this, she prays every day for peace, "that parents will not bury their children in this land - that we will see our kids building their homes, learning and growing."
Read the personal stories of the other torch-lighters here:
Actress and Holocaust survivor Miriam Zohar
Head of National Student Council Gal Yosef