The bittersweet taste of Yom HaAtzmaut


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.