Barbecue at Kishon Park in Haifa 370 .
(photo credit: Herzl Shapiro/Kishon River Authority)
This year’s Remembrance Day siren sounded at 11 a.m. for two minutes, during
which we stood in silence and remembered the people who died throughout Israel’s
many wars and terrorist attacks. That evening, as the day transformed from
sorrow to the happy celebrations of Independence Day, fireworks could be seen
and heard throughout the country.
As I stood on my balcony looking out
over Tel Aviv, I noticed the most amazing thing. The balconies and roofs were
covered with Israeli flags and many homes had strings of festive colored lights
hanging on them.
Israelis have learned to live with this week long
juxtaposition of mourning and celebration. It begins with Holocaust Remembrance
Day, continues a week later with Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s
Wars, and culminates with Independence Day celebrations.
And suddenly it
seemed as if this were the only week of the year in which there is consensus
among the Jewish people in Israel.
The Jewish calendar is loaded with
holidays and fast days, happiness and mourning. Most of these are based on the
religious calendar, Jewish faith and tradition. However, the Israeli melting pot
is made up of families from dozens of backgrounds and origins: Secular and
religious, haredi and traditional, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, rightwing and
Not everyone celebrates the holidays for religious reasons.
Some Israelis commemorate them without the religious rituals, and instead focus
on vacationing, hiking, picnics and family get-togethers.
pray according to one custom, while other people prefer a different
Some Israelis keep Shabbat while others don’t. Some keep kosher
during Passover, and some don’t.
Some people fast on fast days, while
others don’t. Some Israelis build Succot in which they eat and sleep, and others
don’t build one at all. Even on the holiest day of the year – Yom Kippur – some
people fast, while some people eat and watch movies at home.
65 years, and countless attempts to define ourselves as a single people with a
homogeneous collective identity that has similar interests and beliefs, there
are still great gaps among the various populations. Despite national aspirations
to define the Israeli ethos as a single entity, the makeup of the Jewish state
is not uniform at all.
All Israeli Jews celebrate Hanukka, but for some
of us it is a holiday in which we light candles and celebrate our victory over
the Greeks. But for most people, however, it is a chance to take a trip
overseas, or go to music and children’s festivals. Even on Yom Kippur and Rosh
Hashana, hotels in Eilat are full of people taking advantage of time off from
work and school and special hotel deals to take a vacation.
And at the
end of Independence Day, I suddenly realized that we had just ended the only
week of the year in which we all unite as the Jewish people around one
On Holocaust Remembrance Day, the entire community is filled with
sadness. Even Facebook is filled with posts about everyone’s personal
Everyone is sad. We think about our common fate as the
As we listen to the sad, but beautiful, music being played
on all radio stations, we understand that this is our destiny. We all shed tears
from hearing the horrifying stories told by our parents or neighbors. And we
come together as one unified community on this difficult day. This period of
mourning lasts a full week, and then blends into Remembrance Day for the Fallen
of Israel’s Wars.
And once again, we all stand united during the siren,
or crying next to the graves of fallen soldiers.
And then suddenly the
day has ended and we immediately jump up to celebrate Independence Day, waving
flags and saluting those same heroes who just minutes ago we were
We celebrate as a united people.
We cry together but
also celebrate together. We laugh together and hold barbecues with friends and
family in the forests. Everyone, from every nationality, faith and political
leaning, is celebrating.
Every year at this time, I am suddenly hopeful
that we will succeed in overcoming our difficulties.
That we will triumph
in our struggles and that the endless arguments between the Left and Right will
disappear. Once a year, we can let ourselves believe that it might actually be
possible for us to remain here forever as one united people.
is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet
(Israel Security Agency).Translated by Hannah Hochner.