In just under one hour’s time, the state of Israel will come to a standstill for two minutes, and the only sound we will hear will be the melancholy wail of a siren, reminding us that today we mourn. We mourn for our fallen soldiers, and we mourn for those killed in terror attacks. Israeli television programming is dedicated to the fallen, with a continuous run of personal stories of those who have fallen, and those they left behind. Songs on the radio are sad and beautiful, songs of love and loss, of young lives cut short before their time. One can’t help but be swept up in this wave of national mourning, especially given that nearly everyone knows someone who has been killed, or someone who knows someone, etc. You get the picture. It is a loss that is tangible and current, and the wounds are very much open, far from healed.
Following Holocaust Remembrance Day, I got into a brief discussion with another blogger, as we wondered whether our native-born counterparts felt as emotional upon hearing the siren as we did, as immigrants who had chosen to make Israel our home. Sadly, we came to the conclusion (following conversations with the native Israelis in our lives) that we, as people who had not grown up with the siren, were more moved emotionally. Now that we’ve reached Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror, I wonder if today’s siren is felt differently, if our young Israelis are more moved by the symbolism of an event that touches them personally, as opposed to the siren of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks an event that for many Israelis, is a historical event.
One of the most interesting facets of this day, though, is the switch. The switch that we will make this evening, as Israel transitions straight from deep sadness into pure, unadulterated joy. Within moments, Memorial Day turns into Independence Day, and the celebrations for Israel’s 58th year as an established state begin. Fireworks, festivities and happy pandemonium take over the country from North to South, as each city and town tries to outdo not only its own previous celebrations, but also those taking place in other towns. Singing and dancing, free concerts and performances, children and teenagers happily running through the streets with their friends… Only in our land of extremes could such a transition of emotions be possible.
And yet, I can’t help but wonder about the families of the fallen. Do they make the transition as well? How is it possible to be mourning the loss of a child, a parent, a spouse, a sibling in one moment, and celebrating our independence the next? I can’t even imagine being able to do such a thing. I question whether it is wise to mark these events so close together, whether the mourning on one day makes the next day even more unbearable, as you are once again left alone with your pain while everyone around you has moved on. When we mark the day of our first son’s passing, whether or not we actively mark the day, I am careful never to schedule a joyful event on that day or the next, whether it be dinner out with friends, a concert or show. I don’t do it. I can’t. All this for a child who was with us for less than seven months. How do these parents do it, after losing a child who’s been with them for so much longer? How do they make the switch? Strong people they must be.
In any event, we will be quietly celebrating this evening, barbecuing on our porch with He (my blogging partner) and family, watching the fireworks with our children as our dog cowers in our shower, shaking uncontrollably as he waits for it all to be over, as tradition dictates (which will inevitably be followed by weeks where he will refuse to go out after dark for his evening walk, afraid that the fireworks and other loud noises will catch him unprepared out in the open). Tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, while every other Israeli will be outside searching for a few blades of grass on which to start their barbecue (I’ve seen people barbecue here on traffic islands), I will be comfortably ensconced on my couch (sans bird), watching Israeli films from the 60s and 70s and running around the house after the little one, who has no need for such traditions, despite the fact that he’s a first-generation native-born Israeli. Whatever happens, yihyeh tov (it will be good).
And here’s a little post-siren update. I ended up getting roped into a conference call with some of the folks from work. When the siren started, I could hear the scraping of chairs all around, and then all went quiet as we stayed on the phone, each standing silently in their respective locations (with me silently praying that my dog, who was laying on the floor behind me, would not start to howl, as he sometimes does in these circumstances). Once the siren ended, we went back to our meeting without skipping a beat. Only in Israel, I think.