Remembering and celebrating under coronavirus lockdown – opinion

The order to stay away from the cemeteries on Remembrance Day was based on concern for the public's health, not malice.

Israelis mark Independence Day 2020 by enjoying some grilled meat on their balcony  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israelis mark Independence Day 2020 by enjoying some grilled meat on their balcony
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
For most Israelis, commemorating the fallen in Israel's wars and the hostilities Israel has been subject to since the establishment of the State, and during the pre-1948 struggle for the attainment of the State, followed by the celebration of Independence Day, are collective events, involving collective bereavement followed by collective joy.
As a result, the requirement to experience these events in isolation or within one's nuclear family as a result of the corona pandemic, was strange for most, and traumatic for some – especially bereaved families, who have grown accustomed to fixed ceremonies organized by the State, that represent the State's acknowledgement of their sacrifice and participation in their grief.
My memories from my school days – the 1950s – in Haifa, where I was born, are of  going out not only to listen to popular singers, but to dance in the streets on the eve of Independence Day.  I remember the main street in the Central Carmel being closed to traffic for this purpose. This was all before the plastic hammers and the foam. We used to go to the Panorama over-viewing Haifa Bay, to watch firework displays. 
As a teenager I remember that I used to walk down the stairs leading from Mount Carmel to the lower city with my friends, to watch the festivities there, and once even ending up on the beach in Bat Galim, where we sat in a deserted boat, sang and joked.  We had all been born before independence.
I have fewer memories of Remembrance Day – even though in the War of Independence, 1% of the Jewish population of the country was killed, and the relative number of bereaved families was much greater than it is today.  I guess that in those days the commemoration was much less formalized than it is today.
IN THE 1980s, when my daughters were growing up in Jerusalem, Independence Day was more a day for picnics out in nature with friends. As the children grew up they started going out on Independence Day to do their own thing, and I found myself increasingly spending the eves of Remembrance Day and Independence Day at home, passively watching the ceremonies on TV, and on Independence Day watching the fireworks on Mount Herzl, which I can see from my porch.
I must admit that this year, the modest scale of the official ceremonies broadcast on TV, without a live audience, were much more pleasing to me in their relative simplicity and without most of the fanfare. I was particularly pleased to be rid of the displays of military formation marching, more befitting the regimes of China and North Korea (they are better at this). I could have done without the prime minister's recorded appearance on Independence Day eve, which allegedly praised "our achievements," but was another performance of self-aggrandizement by Netanyahu. Gantz's speech, as Speaker of the Knesset, was no more and no less inspiring than the speeches of Yuli Edelstein in the past. But this was certainly not a collective experience. 
Having been born in 1943, I remember those who fell in the War of Independence from my parents' generation – and in the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War and some of the military operations that followed from my generation.  As of the late 1980s and 1990s there are the fallen of my daughters' generation. I certainly believe that Israel's treatment of the commemoration of its fallen is commendable, and apparently quite unique.  But...
EVERY YEAR, the media present us with the personal stories of men and women who were killed in uniform or in terrorist attacks, and introduce their parents, spouses, siblings and children. Each and every one of them was a whole world: with talents, personal qualities, plans, aspirations and failings (that are not mentioned). But so is everyone who died prematurely in an accident, from disease or due to social, domestic or criminal violence.
The loss and pain suffered by the families of the latter, is no less than that of the families of the former.  However, the latter do not enjoy the same collective hug and support as do the former, and they certainly do not enjoy the same lenient public reactions when their own reactions are extreme, and even unreasonable.
For example, when the authorities announced that this year, due to the coronavirus, the bereaved families should stay away from the military cemeteries on Remembrance Day where their dear ones are buried, there were those who reacted in absolute rage, and accused the authorities of malice.
"How can anyone order me to stay away from my daughter's grave on her holiday, during the sounding of the sirens, and leave her alone?" asked the mother of Lt. Hila Bezalel, who was killed eight years ago during a rehearsal of the Independence Day ceremony on Mt. Herzl. Hila's yahrzeit had taken place the previous week, and her family had visited her grave then.
The order to stay away from the cemeteries on Remembrance Day was based on concern for the public's health, not malice.  Besides, the mere idea that a dead person can feel lonely is preposterous.  Even if one believes in the afterlife, certainly one does not believe that the soul is locked up in the grave, and needs company.  It is the mother who is lonely, and it is she who needs help – not publicity for her outcry.
INCIDENTALLY, no one gave me instructions about avoiding to visit my daughter's grave on her yahrzeit at the peak of the lockdown.  My former husband and I decided that even though 25 years had passed since her death in a car accident in Chile, and a few of her friends were planning to join us at the cemetery, we would wait until August 21, when she would have celebrated her 50th birthday, and then gather for a memorial get-together. It wasn't Anath (our eldest daughter) who had to contend with our absence, but we, and fortunately neither of us needs her grave to think of her and remember her. The grave is where we get together, several times a year, to remember her together.
Incidentally, Anath was killed almost six years after she missed, by a few seconds, getting on bus No. 405 from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that was run off highway No. 1 near Kiryat Ye'arim by a Palestinian terrorist, on July 6, 1989. Sixteen passengers were killed in that incident. Anath was in uniform at the time (she was on her way home for the weekend from her army unit of paratroopers). Had she been killed in this incident, she would have been counted among the fallen, and buried on Mount Herzl.
Would I have felt any different had those been the circumstances of her death? I doubt it, though I am sure that I would have been offered much more support in contending with the loss, had I required support.  On the other hand, I and my family would have lost part of our autonomy by being lumped together into the collective family of national bereavement, and forced into state dictated ceremonial practices and time tables, which do not necessarily suit everyone.