Friday, May 9, 2008

Remembrance and Celebration

It's been a very emotional week in Israel, with the holidays of Yom Hazikaron (memorial day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks) and Yom Ha'atzmaut (independence day) which fall back to back of one another. While it was such a strange transition, going from a national day of mourning right into a national day of celebration, it also felt so natural. Israelis believe that those who died for their country would want them to celebrate and embrace the fact that Israel has not only survived but thrived, during the last 60 years. It makes perfect sense to me that the 2 days are next to each other so all Israelis can remember the real reason their friends, siblings, children, spouses, etc. gave their lives.

In honor of the special week, HUC hosted an amazing event on Monday. Instead of regular classes, the whole day was dedicated to Israel. We could choose the classes we would attend, so I chose a class on Israeli children's books, a discussion of the 'Preface to Kaddish Yatom' written by Shai Agnon, a famous Israeli author, and another discussion on how to incorporate the 3 holidays of the week into our synagogues in the US. We had a wonderful lunchtime celebration, with falafel, a picnic, and fun and famous Israeli songs and dancing. We celebrated outside, in one of HUC's amazing courtyards that overlooks the Old City, and embraced Israel and our togetherness as a class.
HUC'ers dancing in the courtyard at the special picnic lunch on Monday

Yom Hazikaron began with another siren, this time at night and only 1 minute in length. I decided to go to a ceremony and a shira bitsibur (sing-along) at the Nature Museum. I arrived just in time to hear the siren, where once again, the crowd of hundreds of Israelis fell silent (if you know Israelis, you know that for them to be silent is a rare occurance.) The mood was definitely somber and humble from then on. The ceremony was lovely and very moving; many people spoke about their loved ones who were killed in attacks or in the army, and special songs were sung and dedicated to them. At the end of the ceremony, the crowd sang a collective Hatikvah in remembrance of the hope and dedication the ones we've lost have given to the State and people of Israel. The sing along was also lovely, though different from others I have seen--most of the time the crowd is loud and rowdy, singing, dancing, drinking, laughing, and enjoying each other's company. This night, however, they simply sang sad and hopeful songs quietly with one man who was playing guitar as they cried and mourned for the losses of their families and their country.

The shira bitsibur I attended in honor of Yom Hazikaron

Wednesday morning began with t'fillah at HUC and a trip to Gymnasia Rehavia, a private school in Jerusalem. After another 2-minute siren, they held a lovely ceremony, where the names of the 137 students and faculty who lost their lives were read out loud. We were also able to tour their memorial hall to put faces and stories to the names we heard read earlier.

The ceremony at Gymnasia Rehavia

Memorial candles at Gymnasia Rehavia that spell out the word Yizkor (Remembrance.)

Wednesday night marked the end of Yom Hazikaron and the beginning of Yom Ha'atzmaut. We gathered at Greg, Lauren and Michelle's apartment for a fun BBQ and to watch the national ceremony on TV. The ceremony was so neat--it transitioned beautifully from remembering the fallen into celebrating the State of Israel. There were speeches by Knesset members, the lighting of 12 torches, each representing one of the 12 Tribes of Jacob, and special color guard and dance performances. We played a game of "Name that Formation!" as we tried to guess what some of the color guard formations were (even from our birds eye angle it was hard to guess some of them!) After the BBQ, we left to go to the apartment of a professor who was hosting a celebration on her AMAZING roof. We were able to see nearly all of Jerusalem from her roof, and there were tons of fireworks and laser-light shows going on. Awhile later, we headed downtown to Kikar Safra for another sing along and dance festival. It was so festive and fun; we were able to sing along to fun Israeli songs and dance in traditional Israeli circle dances. There were tons of people all over (nearby Kikar Tzion, the center of downtown, was so packed with people that we didn't even attempt to visit) and everyone's spirit was joyful and light. It was definitely a fun evening I will remember for a very long time.

Fireworks over downtown J'lem from Sally Klein-Katz's roof on Wednesday night

Folk dancing in Kikar Safra

The masses of people leaving Kikar Tzion on Wednesday night

Steph and I, windblown and happy, after dancing and singing in Kikar Safra

Thursday we had the day off school, so instead of accomplishing the many, many items on my to-do list, we went to the beach! Steph, Ari, Jen and I met up with our Tel Aviv girls to spend some time in Tel Aviv, lounging on the beach and watching the air show as it flew over us. I LOOOOVE the beach in Tel Aviv, and I spent a lot of time just walking around with my feet in the water, enjoying the company of my friends and observing Israeli beach culture for the last time this year. We ended our day together with Mexican food (we finally found it!) and drinks and said goodbye to each other and the amazing day that was Yom Ha'atzmaut.

Jet planes during the Air Show in Tel Aviv

One of the fun kites for sale on the beach

My friends and I at the end of our huge Mexican feast. From left to right: Dina, Steph Mohr, Steph, Ari, Tali (Ari's adorable little sister), me and Shari

The J'lem and Tel Aviv girls together for the last time this year. From left to right: Shari, me, Dina, Steph and Steph Mohr.

Celebrating the State of Israel and honoring those who've given their lives to build this amazing place, has been one of the most humbling and memorable experiences of my life. These days do not make it easy to want to leave Israel, and I find myself becoming increasingly more and more sad to leave in 2 weeks. While this country has it's fair share of problems, it is also the most incredible place in the world--to think of all Israel has accomplished in a short 60 years is inspiring and miraculous. As Zionist Theodore Herzl said, "If you will it, it is not a tale." I think Herzl would be proud to see where Israel has come and where it is going--and I think he would be confident that all of the issues this country faces will only make it stronger and make the people who love it fight harder to keep it.

Happy 60th Birthday, Israel--may you have many, many more.

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