Collective memories are made of this….

The most unforgettable moments of life in Israel present a picture of who we are, what we’ve been through, and what we’d like to be.

high school students 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
high school students 521
(photo credit: Reuters)
Last year, to mark Independence Day, this column presented an informal survey of people’s most quintessentially Israeli experiences. This year I asked what constitute the country’s most unforgettable moments. The answers present a picture of who we are, what we’ve been through, and what we’d like to be. Some of these memories we’d just as soon put behind us, and others were over all too soon.
You don’t have to have lived through the experience for it to be part of your collective memory. Just as the British can quote Churchill during his (and the country’s) “finest hour,” and Americans of all ages can “have a dream” delivered in a dramatic voice, so, too, can Israelis quote at least part of the 1947 UN partition plan vote and David Ben-Gurion in May 1948 as “we hereby declare” the birth of the state, “to be called Israel.”
Events surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial have also jogged painful memories, while reminding us of the daring intelligence feat behind his capture.
War featured heavily in group recollections; sadly each generation had its war (or two). The miraculous victory of the Six Day War in 1967, when the country went from the verge of annihilation to uniting Jerusalem is there, its essence captured in David Rubinger’s photo of the paratroopers at the Western Wall. So is the trauma of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Lebanon I and II also featured in collective memories. Perhaps the strangest war we have been through was the Gulf War in 1991, with its sealed rooms, decorated gas-mask kits, and unexpected media star then-IDF Spokesman Nachman Shai in the role of “Mr. Valium.”
Where were you when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated? If you don’t remember, you’re either too young or you weren’t in Israel on November 4, 1995. Just as Americans remember the JFK assassination, so Israelis remember the Rabin murder.
There were also the success stories. The arrival in February 1986 of Natan Sharansky – former Soviet dissident supreme – and the airlift of Ethiopian Jewry within 36 hours in May 1991 were each miraculous in their own way.
The Entebbe Operation of July 1976 is the stuff movies are made of.
The speech to the Knesset by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1977 and the signing of the peace treaty with Jordan in 1994 – those are memories worth savoring.
Tal Brody put us “on the map” and gave Zionism a strong American accent – “anahnu al hamapa ve’anahnu nisharim al hamapa” – following Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 1977 European basketball championship win against CSKA Moscow.
Israel’s first gold medal at the Olympics (to windsurfer Gal Friedman in 2004) is unforgettable – but there is no consolation for the murder of the 12 athletes at the Munich Olympics of 1972.
News anchor Haim Yavin’s description of the Likud’s ascension to power in 1977 as the “mahapach,” the turn-about, has entered history.
Yizhar Cohen winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1978 (with the otherwise forgettable song “Abanibi”) gave us a reason to sing and dance, and at the same competition the following year in Jerusalem, Gali Atari with Milk and Honey sent out a victorious message with “Hallelujah.”
In Israel, memories are, well, so Israeli: The highs and lows follow each other as dramatically as the marking of Remembrance Day one day and Independence Day the next.
Watching Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, make kiddush in space shortly before his death aboard the Columbia – that made an indelible impression in February 2003. Ramon also features in another historic event, the destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981.
The Oslo Accords entered our consciousness in 1993. The terror that followed – particularly the bus bombings – is now a part of our DNA as much as our continued prayers for peace.
The scenes from the withdrawal from Sinai in 1982 are still traumatic. Disengagement from Gaza (August 2005) even more so, as are the ongoing missile attacks. The pullout from Lebanon in 2000 was a mixed blessing.
So many “windows of opportunity” were followed by doors slamming, like the failure of Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000 to produce anything other than another wave of terror: Sbarro, the Dolphinarium, Café Moment, Café Maxim, Café Hillel… the list is so long we gave up remembering the individual victims and began to commemorate them collectively by the places where they died, just as soldiers become associated with where they fell.
The lynching of the two soldiers in Ramallah in October 2000 stands out, as does the abduction of Gilad Schalit in June 2006 (especially in the knowledge that IAF navigator Ron Arad, missing since 1986, is unlikely to return).
This year has already witnessed moments we’d rather forget, but dare not: The murder of the Fogel family, not the first murder of its type even in Itamar, somehow hit a more emotional chord than most (maybe it was the slaughter of the three-month-old baby).
The Carmel fire disaster is scorched into our recollection.
One friend said the trial of Moshe Katsav would go down in history – not for the ignominy of having a president convicted of rape and sexual harassment, but for its marking a turning point – “a message that all men are equal before the law and all women must be free from fear of abuse.”
For another friend, the opening of Ikea in April 2001 counted as unforgettable: “It’s so normal to go out and buy Ikea furniture, even if the hysteria and balagan to begin with were totally Israeli.” The fire that destroyed that store in February this year, while being less historic, had a typically Israeli side to it: The blaze took place on a Shabbat, when the complex was closed, thus probably saving lives.
Here’s hoping that all future round-ups contain many more good memories than bad ones.