From mourning to celebrating

Israel moves quickly from remembering its past to rejoicing on its 70th birthday.

An Independence Day barbecue in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
An Independence Day barbecue in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A HAUNTING siren echoes throughout the country. It’s a loud, deep, eerie sound that can be heard along the width and breadth of Israel, each year, at 10 a.m. on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. And the country literally comes to a standstill. Cars on the highways stop, and drivers get out, stand in the streets, lower their heads and remember. Moving ceremonies at schools, universities and the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem come to a halt, as people of all ages stop and listen. Our television newsroom came to a standstill, as Jewish, Arab, Christian and atheist colleagues stopped typing – and broadcasting – to observe two minutes of silence in memory of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
No matter where you are in the country – or what you are doing – you stop, listen and remember.
It’s surreal, devastating and deeply moving to hear the sirens bellowing across the country. Even though you know it’s about to happen, it awakens a stark and dark reminder of where we have come from. You can feel the pain around you, especially when you look at some of the older men and women nearby. This year, I was struck by how young children responded to the sirens.
During a school memorial ceremony, primary school pupils immediately stopped, looked down and went silent. As teachers, mothers, fathers and grandparents wiped away tears, I wondered how much these young children understood, and if we are doing enough to adequately explain our nation’s devastating past. The sirens sound like a shofar, almost a call to remember.
While I wasn’t sure how much the younger children could understand about this tragic, dehumanizing and incomprehensible part of our history, they certainly seemed moved by the sounds, and the accompanying silence.
From mourning to celebration…the cycle of life.
Just days later, the country celebrated its 70th birthday. The celebrations start on Independence Day – Yom Ha’atzumaut – but this is just the beginning. The streets of Ra’anana are already lined with flags and banners marking this major milestone.
The start of the 70th anniversary festivities occurs straight after Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day for Israel’s Fallen) – the day the country remembers its fallen heroes and victims of terror. And so, again, the country moves from a somber time of sadness and remembrance into a period of joy and hope for the future. It always makes me smile when these celebrations include invites to Israeli barbecues after the annual air-force flyover, which many families flock to the beaches to watch together.
Of course, all of this is happening at a very worrying time for the region. Tensions are high after the US, France and Britain attacked Syrian bases in response to a recent chemical attack in Douma. The US says it’s “locked and loaded” in the event of any other chemical attacks in the future. Before that, Israel was accused of targeting a T-4 military base in Syria. The country doesn’t comment on such attacks, but Iran is vowing revenge. The war rhetoric continues, and so does life here.
Schools have conducted their regular bomb shelter drills, in case the next sirens we hear are warning of imminent rockets.
We have heard friends talking about making sure that their bomb shelters are clean. At the same time, people discussed their upcoming plans, where they were celebrating the country’s 70th birthday and what parties were being organized to mark the big day.
Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned about living in this country, people remember the past, they live in the present and they have hope for the future.
Words of the week
Mamad – enclosed bomb shelter, often in a basement or a room in a home
Tekes – ceremony Smile of the week Searching for a bakery on the night Passover ended, only to find our favorite spot churning out fresh rolls and pastries at midnight