The weeks spanning April 14 – 28 were some of the most emotional weeks of my life. To begin, Alli’s parents arrived for their week long visit on the 14th. Their arrival also coincided with Israel’s day of remembrance for the fallen soldiers of Israel and the victims of terror. So we went from a very excited happy reunion with her parents into a very somber evening. (Recall that as with other Jewish holidays, the day of remembrance and Independence day begin/end at sundown and not at midnight.) After showing them our apartment (and receiving gifts from home), we walked outside a little in our neighborhood and then all stood still as the sirens went off to mark the beginning of this day of remembrance. The cars on the streets stopped and everyone got out and stood quietly throughout the minute long siren. After dinner Alli stayed at home to visit with family while I went out to a friend’s house where he had organized a memorial. This memorial consisted of about 20 – 30 people sitting on the lawn of this guy’s house, singing songs related to the experience of either serving in the armed forces and losing a friend, or having a brother or son lost during battle. I recognized a few of the songs, but most I did not know. I had trouble reading/understanding the lyrics of most songs because of my limited Hebrew skills and the poor quality of the projected lyrics, however, one of the songs that I could more or less get the gist of moved me to tears. It is called “My young brother Yehuda.” I can’t do it justice with a description, so here are the translated lyrics:
My Young Brother Yehuda – אחי הצעיר יהודה
Ehud Manor z”l wrote this song for his younger brother (Yehudah) who lost his life in the Six Day War in 1967.
(Translation courtesy of the Israel Forever foundation.)
The next day (April 15th) I went into work as usual, but left a little early so that I could attend a ceremony marking the transition from Yom Hazikaron (Memorial day) to Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence day) in the courtyard of the Ramban synagogue. The ceremony was simple but meaningful. From what I understood, they read the names of those members of the congregation that fell in defense of Israel, then an older gentleman stood up and spoke about his brother who he lost either shortly after the founding of the state of Israel or during the war of Independence (again, Hebrew is a second language for me). Rabbi Lau also said a few words that were meaningful, though I can’t seem to recall exactly what he said. The ceremony ended with the singing of Hatikva – Israel’s national anthem. Here are the translated lyrics for those unfamiliar with them:
As long as deep within the heart
A Jewish soul yearns
And toward the edges of the east
An eye to Zion looks
Our hope is not yet lost
The hope of two thousand years
To be a free people in our Land
The Land of Zion and Jerusalem.
(Translation courtesy of Hadassah.org)
One of the thoughts that I had about Yom Hazikaron was that despite the fact that from the day of its inception Israel has been defending itself against one existential threat after another, it has maintained an amazing sensitivity to the human cost of war. One could imagine an alternate universe where instead of reacting like this, Israel could have taken such a day and turned the emotions of it outwards, expressing anger and inciting people to seek revenge for those that they lost. Instead, the many different ceremonies and things that go on looked inward, giving people outlets to express grief and sadness, outlets to remember loved ones and friends that fell. I felt like it was a day of national therapy.
Returning to the evening of April 15th, following the conclusion of the singing of the national anthem, the flag was raised and we went inside the synagogue for the evening prayers. These, however, weren’t just the usual prayers, they were holiday prayers. What do I mean? Now that Yom Ha’atzmaut had started, all of the somberness of just a few minutes before transitioned into the joy and the expression of thanksgiving for the existence of the state of Israel. At this point, I can’t recall all of the details, but I distinctly remember singing several psalms from the pre-Shabbat service of kabbalat Shabbat, Hallel – a series of psalms normally recited on holidays such as Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Chanuka, etc. – and blowing shofar. And when I say singing, I mean singing accompanied by someone playing guitar, which I’ve never seen before at an orthodox service. My impression of the whole event was that this wasn’t just a celebration of a people being happy to be sovereign in their own state – though I’m sure that was part of it – it was also an expression of the belief that God had played a role in causing the state of Israel to exist, giving the opportunity to be sovereign in the Jewish ancestral homeland.
Then we had dinner and went to see the fireworks… 🙂