One united people

Once a year, we can let ourselves believe that it might actually be possible for us to remain here forever as one united people.

Barbecue at Kishon Park in Haifa 370  (photo credit: Herzl Shapiro/Kishon River Authority)
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 left-wing.
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.
Some people pray according to one custom, while other people prefer a different one.
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.
Even after 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 idea.
On Holocaust Remembrance Day, the entire community is filled with sadness. Even Facebook is filled with posts about everyone’s personal experiences.
Everyone is sad. We think about our common fate as the Jewish people.
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 mourning.
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.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.