This week on Café Oleh, we ask our panel to reflect on a both joyous and painful time in Israel. In the span of a week, we commemorate both Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israel’s Memorial Day, as well as celebrate Israeli Independence Day. For many olim, new and old, this can prove to be a time of both connection and disconnection to their new country.
1. Do you remember your first time hearing one of this week’s three memorial sirens. Where were you? How did you feel? Did this experience help cement your feeling of Israeli-ness or cause you to feel slightly like an outsider? How have your impressions or experiences of the sirens changed over the course of your time in Israel?
I remember the first time that I heard the Remembrance Day siren I was actually on an army base volunteering as part of my gap year program. It felt surreal to be in an army uniform, even if we were just "pretending." It was meaningful to be there, but we were at a base in the middle of nowhere and I actually felt quite detached from it all.
This past Holocaust Remembrance Day I listened to the siren at a busy junction in Tel Aviv and I was lucky enough to watch all the cars and people stop. For me, this was actually just as poignant because I felt as if I was just like everyone else. I was on my way to work and I stopped what I was doing for two minutes just like everyone else around me.
After living here for a year and a half, I still jump when I hear any siren. The sirens produce a moment of terror for me. It''s possible that after many years of living here, I may be able to distinguish between drills and between memorial sirens, but for now, whenever I first hear a siren, my first instinct is to scream and run for the Miklat.
2. Yom Hazikaron is a very serious and somber holiday for most Israelis, many of whom mourn actual friends and family members that they’ve lost to war and conflict. New to the country, you may not have any one specific to mourn and possibly had not done any army service. Did you feel that the lack of these experiences and connections made your experience of these holidays at all fraught with tension?
I wouldn''t say there is any tension because of this. I feel slightly disconnected sometimes because I don''t have any real personal connection to the day. The more I am here in Israel, the more I get to know the songs and the ways in which Israelis mark the important day. It''s a collective day when the whole country shares the grief. The more I watch the personal stories of the soldiers who have been killed, the more I feel a part of it all.
See my blog post. Less tension for me, and more a sense of "outside-ness." I jokingly call this the feeling of being a "bahutzer" (from the Hebrew word for "outside.")
3. The proximity of these three holidays—especially the one day gap between Memorial Day and Independence Day—can put the country on what feels like an emotional roller coaster. Do you have any unique insights onto the proximity of these holidays and can you reflect on the consequences of such proximity?
It is difficult to make the changes. This is the best time of year in the sense that the weather is getting better and everyone is taking advantage of the end of the winter. This year on Holocaust Remembrance Day I was going about my everyday business and enjoying being outside, then all of a sudden everything was closing and the city (Tel Aviv) changes completely in the space of an hour. It can be hard to get into the spirit of things so quickly. But what helps is the fact that everyone is doing it together. You can''t really help but get caught up in the emotions, whether they be good or bad, because the whole country is experiencing the same thing.
4. Do you have any important or formative stories or experiences related to these holidays (especially Memorial and Independence Day) that you’d like share with our readers?
One of the main things that has hit me since living in Israel is the way in which songs are used to help with the commemoration of Remembrance Day. I am sucker for Israeli songs and I look forward to listening to all the special songs that are played on the radio throughout the day. Most of them are very sad and the more I understand the words, the more I appreciate their meaning. I think it is a great way to unite the nation and help people get through this very tough day.