Over the last few weeks, as always around this time of year, more and more Israeli flags start to appear. You see them flying from car windows, car mirrors, apartment blocks, houses, office buildings, factories, restaurants, shops, garages, traffic lights, street lights, motorway bridges, and roundabouts. Everything seems focused on Yom HaAtzmaut, and the celebration of the foundation of the state.
However, before we get there, we have to pass through the preceding 24 hours of Yom HaZikaron, the day when Israel remembers those who have fallen in the wars.
It’s not as if Yom HaZikaron is a surprise – everyone knows it’s coming – but it’s not signaled in advance. It’s almost as if we can only bear the one day of sadness and mourning. That is understandable. But every year, as we make the switch from the end of Yom HaZikaron, to the immediately following start of Yom HaAtzmaut, as we make the switch from somber memorial to sweet celebration, there’s an underlying bittersweet sensation drifting around.
We may not like to stop mourning, as perhaps we fear it means we are forgetting the fallen, even if only for a short while. Indeed, some may be unable to stop mourning, and who can blame them?
In previous years, when I have been at a Yom HaZikaron ceremony, I have found the whole atmosphere to be an emotional experience. I never fail to be touched by the stories of the fallen and their sacrifice, of tales told by still grieving family, now years, if not decades, after their loss. There’s a sense of shame, of guilt that I am alive, free to enjoy life in Israel because of that sacrifice. I feel responsible for each family’s grief, even though I know that’s ridiculous. It’s my guilty conscience in overdrive. And I only gradually shake off that mix of feelings during the course of Yom HaAtzmaut. That’s part of what makes it bittersweet to me. That sensation underlines how important it is to appreciate what we have – in the face of ongoing hostility and hatred – and to be thankful.
Yom HaZikaron starts tonight.
We were invited out for Yom Haatzmaut evening; a night of Israeli food, chat, and a quiz. It was all terrific, apart from the quiz. Let’s just say I have still got a lot to learn about my homeland!
And, as I posted on Facebook, we had some flag:
Today, Susan and I went biking at Beri. It’s about 24km of rocky singletrack, with half a dozen outrageous climbs, and some tricky buts for the unwary. I was unwary – and badly out of practice – so paid for it with an abandon ship enactment, a face plant, and several close encounters of the knee graze type. In short, I fell a few times. But I did make it to the end with all limbs intact, and only a slight limp. In each foot. So, not too bad. The falls really sap the energy, though. Susan, Peter, and Anne stayed on the bike much more. I must try to emulate them next time!
Oh, and I came back home and logged on to catch up with coverage of the Yom Haatzmaut celebrations. The funny thing is, I cannot see any mention on the Guardian. Or the BBC. They are not normally so coy about covering Israel. What can the matter be? Did I miss it?
Tonight is the start of Yom HaZikaron, when Israel remembers those who have fallen in its wars for survival. (And let’s not kid ourselves, regardless of what mainstream western media says to the contrary: Israel’s wars have been about survival, not some colonial project.) By the count given in today’s Israel HaYom newspaper – pictured below – there have been 23,169.
And, as always, I will be trying to get my head round the change in focus and feeling when, 24 hours later, we move from Yom HaZikaron to Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day). From the depths of despair to the heights of celebration.
Now, it’s time to prepare for some introspection and give thought – and thanks – to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Tonight (Sunday) is the start of Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. At 8 pm there will be a minute long siren, and we will remember the 23,085 members of the security forces who died on active service.
Many have the custom to visit the gravesites of deceased family members. For example (from the Times of Israel):
Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, on Saturday evening went to Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl cemetery to visit the grave of his brother Yoni, who was killed in 1976 while leading an assault force to free Israeli hostages at the Entebbe airport.
There are many memorial ceremonies across the country. Based on past experience, they are hard, painful, and tearful for many who attend.
Tomorrow (Monday) at 11 am there will be a two minute long siren.
On Monday evening, darkness marks the transition from the aching sadness and despair of that day, to the heights of happiness: Israel’s 65th Independence Day. From introspection and remembrance, to one long day of joyous celebration. We look forward, not back.
We will have remembered our fallen. We will have done our duty, and at the very least paid our respects to those who paid the ultimate price for Israel. And then we will declare, by our very presence: am yirael chai. (The people of Israel live.)