This was our fourth year here remembering and participating in these significant days. As I’ve shared before, these days are celebrated back to back, creating an emotional swing from sadness to joy. Yom HaZikkaron begins in the evening with a one-minute blast of sirens around the country. Everyone rises and stands in place, including cars stopping on highways and drivers alighting from them. I once again joined our kibbutz’s ceremony. It’s very moving. Since the beginning of the State, 19 members of the kibbutz lost their lives during war or conflicts, the first at the beginning of the War of Independence in 1948 and the last in 2006 during the Second Lebanese War. Each person’s photo is displayed, and someone reads a short script about them. A few songs are interspersed. Most folks sang along. I recognized the family of the latest casualty because they’re still members of the kibbutz.
Stacy was tutoring an Arab student that evening at his house in Nazareth Illit. She realized before she went that she would be there during the siren blast, and was a little concerned that it would be awkward. She broached the subject at the beginning of her lesson, expressing her desire to honor the fallen. He said he stands for a similar siren that sounds during Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) but doesn’t stand in observance for this day. However, he was very gracious and offered to end the lesson early so she could observe the moment of silence. Since she had arrived a little late, she decided instead to go outside shortly before the siren sounded, observe the moment of silence, then come back in and resume the lesson. The student and his wife were perfectly gracious and respectful of her observance. It was an interesting and moving experience for her.
A siren also sounds the following morning for two minutes. I decided that I wanted to position myself in the Arab Triangle when the siren wailed. The Arab Triangle is a series of Arab towns that I travel through on my way to the office. It’s part of Israel proper and borders the northern side of the West Bank. I planned to stop my car and stand next to it, like most Israelis. I didn’t intend this as a provocative act but rather to observe how the Arab Israelis responded to the siren. I timed my leaving the house to put me in the center of the Arab Triangle alongside the largest city, Um Al Fach’m at the time of the siren blast. However, I got stuck in Afula because there’s a military cemetery along my route, and everyone was going there for a memorial service. It delayed me so long that I feared I wouldn’t even make the Arab Triangle in time. So, I hauled it. I tore down the highway at record speed, weaving in and out of traffic (well experienced from my Washington, DC driving). To enter the Arab Triangle, the road weaves through the Carmel mountain range. I was flying along the curves, fearing I wouldn’t make it. I needed to be in the right lane because I had to pull over to get out. I kept my eyes on the clock and had the radio on. The radio stations also sound the siren. 10 AM was D-Day. It was now 9:59, and I had just entered the Triangle. I maneuvered into the right lane, cutting off a large truck. The clock struck 10:00, and music continued on the radio. A minute or so later Stacy called me. The siren was at 11:00. Arggh; All that effort for nothing! I was in the office by 11, and so Alex, my partner, a client and I all stood for the siren. It was nice but clearly anti-climactic.
As I said above, once the sun sets, Yom HaZikkaron becomes Yom Ha-Atzmaut. Stacy and I gathered with our neighbors and the kibbutz members in the big historic courtyard of Kibbutz Merchavyah, dating from the time Golda Meir lived here. The flags were presented (last year I had the privilege of holding the Israeli flag), a poorly played bugle grunted a few sounds (tunes), a short speech was given and then the fire memorials were lit. At that point all the kids released their helium balloons. It’s all pretty dramatic and moving.
We decided not to stay long this year. The kids were preparing to do some dances, followed by fireworks later, and then falafels would be served, but not until 9:15 – too late for me. We headed back. I realized, and we talked about the fact that for everyone but us, these celebrations are shared experiences that the kibbutz residents grew up with. Because this is a small and relatively new country, the deaths of soldiers are very personal and affect the whole country. Independence here is not taken for granted because the potential of a war for survival can commence at any time. For us, while the days are very meaningful, they just don’t have the same emotional tug. We’re still newbies, and old ones at that.