In the history of the world, perhaps no race of people has had more to mourn and celebrate – frequently in close succession, if not simultaneously – than the Jews. Indeed, the two concepts have never been mutually exclusive in Jewish history, and will likely remain intertwined like conjoined twins sharing a delicate, and inoperable, artery connecting their hearts.
From nearly being annihilated by Nazi barbarity during the Holocaust to finally gaining statehood three years later, only to be attacked the very next day by a ruthless and vastly better equipped six-nation army – and countless other examples of defying perilous odds – for Jews, tragedy and triumph have never been far apart.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Israel celebrates its Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Independence Day within a 48-hour window of each year – this year on April 25 and 26 respectively. While the observance of such inherently disparate occasions may appear odd to the vast majority of the world, for Jews it makes perfect sense.
For millennia, the line separating the bitter from the sweet in Jewish life has only grown finer and finer, to the point of near nonexistence. However, this line still very much exists, and is treated with hallowed respect by a group whose existence has all too often been predicated on acts of tragedy and hope, literally of biblical proportions.
As a new immigrant to Israel, and the only grandson of two Holocaust survivors whose history is steeped in profound tragedy, I understand the juxtaposition of pleasure and pain all too well. To be sure, as my beloved late grandmother Carola once said to me, “Our history was fed to you in your mother’s milk.”
As I observe my second Remembrance Day and Independence Day as a proud American-Israeli citizen, I know that tragedy and triumph will continue to define this country, and why each must be treated with equal dignity and respect.
Despite such a celebration’s schizophrenic nature, to be Israeli, I have learned, is to compartmentalize powerfully conflicting feelings in wholly different parts of the mind, lest one be driven mad - which Israelis certainly are not immune to.
However, arguably the most advanced and effective psychological survival techniques ever devised have been pioneered and perfected by Israelis. It is this very resilience and adaptability that has propelled this country’s men, women and children to truly miraculous heights.
As a relative stranger in this most unusual land I have learned first-hand the necessity of thoroughly understanding and internalizing the diametrically opposed dynamics facing it day in and day out, in seeming perpetuity. It is a unique and jarring emotional yin/yang known to be indigenous to Israel, whose very streets were paved with blood, sweat, tears – and yes: joy, hope and laughter.
As an American, who once took for granted the relative safety of borders protected from terrorism and imminent geopolitical threats, the concept of existentialism never interrupted a single night of my sleep. That all changed, of course, when the unthinkable occurred on September 11, 2001.
However, to live in Israel is to perpetually live in the shadow of such threats, and to embrace whatever little light finds its way through. That light is sacred and celebrated around here, and has fueled this nation’s people to the stratosphere of human achievement.
Indeed, no other group in the world has done so much with so little.
AS I write these words on the eve of the Day of Mourning, and contemplate who I am, and where I come from, I am at once humbled and empowered by a tragic history that has chronically brought us to our knees, only to make us rise up and become stronger than we were before.
We are indeed a people born of tragedy and triumph, and it is the collective respect and understanding that neither is ever far away that will keep us humble and humane. Perhaps most importantly, it is what will keep us alive and help us flourish, despite the innumerable and very real threats maniacally posed by those who hope to wipe us from the face of the Earth.
It is nothing short of a miracle that despite being hunted for thousands of years by enemies who continue to lower the moral bar to the depths of hell – routinely attacking and murdering our children, women and other non-combatants – that Jews remain the most humane group on the face of the Earth.
To be sure, there likely has never been, nor ever will be, a race that is at once hardened by the murderous reality of the barbarity is faces, while maintaining a core decency that continues disproportionately to our size, unabated.
Sabras remain true to their name: a hardened fruit that is deliciously sweet once you get inside.
Our humanity is by far our proudest achievement, and is what separates us from those whose minds and souls are equally blackened by hate.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our bittersweet symphony.
May the next movement be one celebrating peace.