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An Israeli meditation on Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance Day)



Galit, standing

I was standing at noon exactly. It was 8 p.m. in Israel. No one was there to stand with me. It was the loneliest and the weirdest “standing” I have ever experienced. The siren didn’t come from somewhere close. It wasn’t from the synagogue close by. I could control its volume by adjusting it on my computer. It felt weird.

Yael, my friend, wrote me a few minutes before: “Let’s stand together,” and so we did. She stood in Ramat Hasharon and I stood in Chicago. Tears started rolling down my cheeks, remembering what day it is, and where I am. It was hard to differentiate between my sorrow for being so alone at such a moment and the seasonal grief as I call it – in the days post Pesach in Israel. Technology did its part again and I could “enjoy” my childhood tune that was heard twice a year.

There is nothing harder then being an Israeli who misses her country on a day like this. I can fake it on other holidays pretty easily. I create this pseudo holiday bubble and let 'Universal Judaism' dictate the atmosphere. I can transform myself pretty easily and feel like I’m celebrating “Israeli style."

There is one time in the year that I cannot fake it, even to myself, and this is Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day). No one who’s not Israeli can understand these days, not even a committed Jew who has been to Israel a few times and donates on a regular basis.

Yesterday I taught my 5th grade class about the meaning of these days. Like always, I tried to connect them by asking what Memorial Day means to them, desperate or foolish enough to find a link from my heritage to theirs.

Their answers pointed to the highlights of their day:“The date the pools are open,” “shopping,” “food.” Maybe parades. They didn’t have more answers to share with me.

When I understood that my method had failed, I had to find a new way to reach the kids. I talked about the IDF and the mandatory law to serve your country. “But what if we would get killed?” a girl screamed.

I wanted to shout back at her. “Israelis get killed all the time to protect the Jews all over the world!”

I wanted to tell her that while she is concerned about her summer vacation, my family and friends have to struggle every day. But what sense does it makes to explain? The kids were horrified by the fact we have to serve the country and not run off to college.

They didn’t understand what an honor it is to serve your country. An honor that becomes more doubtful from generation to generation. Even Israel is tired. We would prefer to see our amazing youth develop themselves like other kids their age.

And still, I’m standing there when the siren came from the laptop, crying for the almost 23,000 fallen soldiers and for the fact that I cannot be on the same bloody ground they are buried in.

No one can describe the “togetherness” of all the Israelis this day. Everyone is going with their head bent to the ground. No one screams or pushes. We are all quiet this day and embarrassed to raise our voices. We can’t even laugh or act like we are enjoying ourselves. It’s the mothers of consensus.

Everyone knows someone who died to protect Israel, or died from a terror attack.  My grandparent’s brother Yochanan died as a young solider after coming from Poland; a friend lost her brother; a friend of a friend died in a horrible helicopters disaster. We all know someone, and go to commemorate them in 43 IDF graveyards, at ceremonies, and by watching movies about our heroes who were harvested before they bloomed.

No happy songs are sung, no restaurants or theaters are open. We are all mourning for the people that commanded life for us with their death.

There is almost something addictive about this day. My sister just told me yesterday that she loves this day, and she’s not alone. It’s part of our culture, and there to stay. Post-modernism didn’t touch it yet and hopefully never will, unless peace will come.

One cannot be sarcastic on a day like that. Even when you are shouting,"no more war, no more bloodshed” you find yourself wordless in front of bereaved parents.

Amichai’s and Alterman’s songs, Chaim Guri and Chaim Chefer mixed with emotional music, the amazing soundtrack of Yom Hazikaron presents songs that talk about friendships, about love ones, about people who had plans for life.

Today Yom Ha'atzmaut will start when Yom Hazikaron will end. Only one minute separates the two days. A thin line between grief and happiness. And tonight, all my people will go and celebrate our 60th Independence Day. The sad documentaries will transform to happy “Burekas” movies, the world bible quiz will be heard from many television sets, the smell of mangals will fill the air, no matter where you are.

No matter what we have been through and where we are standing today, we still have the koach, the strength, to celebrate our miracle. Even though my pain is huge and the loneliness and the alienation here is so big, I still have something to dream about—to go home.

Galit Greenfield is from Tel Aviv, Israel and currently lives in Chicago and works as a program director at Mosaic: Jewish Arts in the Loop at Hillels Around Chicago.

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