This past week is usually described as the most Israeli week of the year here in the Holy Land. That’s because three major holidays that pretty much sum up the meaning of being Israeli and living in Israel all fall within one week of one another.
The holiday that came first was Yom Hashoa, which is Holocaust Remembrance Day. The six graders in my school performed a beautiful ceremony, focusing on the importance of remembering the Holocaust. It was also the first time I heard a siren while being in Israel. At 10am on Yom Hashoa, a siren sounds throughout the country for about two minutes. I was in school when in happened and all the students and teachers lowered their heads in complete silence as we thought about those who lost their lives. It doesn’t matter what you are doing when the siren goes off, riding a bike, walking in the street, driving a car: you stop, pull over and stand up and remain silent. The siren was a little eerie, as I remembered what happened this past summer and all the sirens that went off then. But it was an amazingly cool experience.
Later that night, my program had a meeting with Israeli students at Tel Aviv University (my future school!!), where we discussed the meaning behind the day and its importance. There was a little debate in my group as to whether the Holocaust should be remembered as one of the leading factors that led to the creation of Israel, but it was interesting to hear the Israeli’s opinion on the day, which was almost a bit more critical than the Americans in the group. I think it’s because of the way we learn about it. In Israel Yom Hashoa is so personal to everyone, there’s no way to not think about it as a siren rings forcing you to stop your day for two minutes. Whereas in America we learn it out of a history textbook. It’s more tangible here.
The second major holiday that fell during this week was another somber one: Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, which was last Tuesday night into Wednesday. We didn’t have school on Tuesday as we had a programming event all day to introduce us to the holiday and tell us a little about it. We spent the morning discussing the importance of remembering those who lost their lives in battle or to terrorist attacks. Then we met with the sister of a fallen solider. It was very interesting to hear her opinion about the day and the remembrance of her brother. I think the most powerful thing she mentioned was that she had just turned 23, her brother was 22 when he died. She remarked that she was now older than her older brother, something that made me think a lot.
Later that night we drove to Latrun, which usually serves as a display area for old army memorabilia, especially tanks. There was a huge Masa ceremony there commemorating the fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Again at 8pm everyone rose for another two minute long siren. The siren meant it was the start of Yom HaZikaron. After the siren the ceremony started. We saw 6 videos detailing the lives and eventual deaths of people who had died. Because the ceremony was for Masa participants, most of the victims had made Aliyah, making it personal for any non Israeli currently living here. There were also musical performances and speeches throughout.
Wednesday was the actual day of Yom HaZikaron and is probably one of the most somber days in Israel. Because the country is so small an there is mandatory military service, everyone knows someone that has been affected by the war, someone who has lost a spouse, parent, or child. There was another ceremony in my school. It was really interesting because parents of fallen soldiers who attended Haviv School actually came to the ceremony. At 11am there was another siren. I was already home at that point. I was putting clothes away in my room when the siren went off. I stopped what I was doing and moved to the window. As I stood still I could see everyone else on the street doing the same thing. Specifically I watched this one couple a few buildings over that looked out over their balcony holding hands. I wondered if they were thinking of anyone in particular. Once the two minutes was over, the cars starting moving again and the couple went back in side.
Wednesday started marked the end of Yom HaZikaron and the start of Yom Haatsmaut, Independence Day. This is cause for a lot of debate in Israel, as the saddest day of the year ends with the start of the happiest. Some people believe it doesn’t give the families of the dead proper time to grieve, as they are forced to be happy as soon as Independence Day begins at sundown. Others feels it is part of the Jewish way of life to feel so many emotions at once, to so drastically go from sad to happy. I personally think it is a little bizarre. I understand the connection between the wars and the fallen soldiers and the eventual formation and protection of Israel as the Jewish state, but I think maybe if there was one more day in between there wouldn’t be such a big issue. It’s not like people wouldn’t make the connection between Memorial Day and Indepenednce day if they were just a few more hours apart.
Anyway, that night Ran and I went into Rabin Square in Tel Aviv where literally thousands of people go to celebrate Israel’s 67th birthday. There were shaving cream fights in the middle of the road (including on a police car), free concerts, fireworks, and just a great atmosphere. After walking around in the area for a little we decided to walk the hour long walk home through the park so we could watch everyone celebrating.
The day of Yom Haatsmaut is a day of barbecuing, street partying, or going to the beach. There is an air show that started at 12pm, however it is best seen from the beaches in Tel Aviv. Ran and I heard the planes but couldnt actually see them. We decided to take a bike ride to the port area because it was a really nice day out. After I had planned to meet friends at a day party on Dizengoff. Let’s just say the bike riding didn’t go as planned. First one of the rented Tel Aviv bikes broke, so Ran had to carry it until we could find somewhere to switch it. Then it started to downpour, like torrential rain while we were in the middle of the park with no where to go. In a matter of seconds it looked like I had just jumped into a pool. Then, I crashed my bike into a pole, causing me to fall off the bike and become covered in mud. Needless to say I was not happy. We finally made it back to the house a few hours later after cleaning up in a random building in the park and exchanging the city bike for a new one. I didn’t end up making it to the day party.
All in all I had an amazing time during the most Israeli week of the year. I had heard about these holidays before but never actually got to celebrate them. It was amazing to be in Israel and just see how important these days are to everyone here.
That’s all for now!