Wednesday, May 5, 2010

From Sadness to Celebration in 62 Seconds: Part I

Days to Remember

Yom Ha’Shoah

  • The week following Pesach life went back to normal, but not for long. On Monday, April 12, a siren sounded at 9am and the country commemorated the Holocaust. I took part in a Rothberg ceremony. Click here to see photos.

  • (In case you didn’t know, Israelis take ceremonies and their preparation very seriously. If you are ever in need of a good ceremony, find an Israeli to run it. For a simple Holocaust reading, we had 4-hour rehearsals into the late night and starting in the early morning, decorations at the entrances as well as on stage, and sound checks galore.)

  • Although during the siren I would have preferred to be at a major intersection to see the traffic stop or at Yad Veshem the night before, in a way it was very interesting to participate in an international ceremony. We had students read in their native tongue, totaling 7 languages, including German.

  • Nonetheless, since I missed the observation opportunity this time, I was committed to seeing the country freeze the next week on Yom Ha’Zikaron.

Yom Ha’Zikaron

  • Well, needless to say, next Sunday night this plan didn’t exactly work. I was with Lee and his parents in a taxi on our way to the national tekes at the Kotel. Many streets were closed and our taxi could not get too close to Zion Gate. So, we had to walk. What we thought was going to be a quick loop into the Old City, became a ½ marathon, leaving us in the middle of nowhere, between the City of David and the Southern Steps for the siren. While there was nobody around except for the four of us standing at attention, it was quite interesting to watch East Jerusalem traffic continue with business as usual.

  • We eventually made it to the Kotel. Although I couldn’t hear or see much, it was still an amazing site. Hundreds of people gathered to remember the countries heroes. After the ceremony, we were pleasantly surprised to see our friend, Dave Teitelbaum, who graduated college in the U.S. and (after being Rosh Al Hagova this past summer) came to Israel to serve in the IDF. Now as a tzanchan, there he was, in uniform, vest, and M-16 in hand, not in the tekes, but just doing his assigned guard duty. This was a moment to schep nachas!

  • There is a striking comparison between our Memorial Day sales in the States and stores closing on erev Yom Ha’Zikaron. Here, the streets become quiet in the afternoon as everyone goes home to prepare to attend a ceremony. You can’t even get a cup of coffee. The obvious difference is that in Israel, everyone, unfortunately, has been affected by the army and war in some way. Whereas many of us in the suburban northeast don’t even know one soldier and our closest connection to the U.S. Military is a grandfather who may have been drafted in WWII.

  • It was at this time that my personal conflict with being in Israel at my age was most strongly reinforced. As I have mentioned before, throughout the year I have felt a bit displaced in society. In anything I do, be it eating at a restaurant, studying in university, going to a concert, or attending a ceremony, the people are either older or younger than I. How can I merely enjoy the benefits of Israel, while everyone else my age is risking their lives, serving their country and protecting me? Moreover, while here, I have gained a large appreciation and felt very patriotic for America. Should I serve my country? If so, which one? And, is the army the only way to do so? For now, I continue to struggle with these questions.

  • Monday morning I was determined to watch the streets come to a standstill. I boarded Bus 4. While riding, a debate broke out. The bus could not follow its normal route because of protests in an ultra orthodox neighborhood. One old lady yelled out “blame the religious for all our problems.” Another more senior man replied, “it’s not them, it’s the Arabs!” Before we knew it, half the bus was involved in this classic left-right battle. Fear not, it wasn’t long before Lee and I got involved as well. But, the heated argument came to an end when an even older lady sitting in the middle of the crossfire shouted, as her dentures fell out, “stop making so much noise!”

  • At 11:00am we were at the intersection of King George and Jaffa St., a perfect place to be. It takes a moment for everyone to realize the siren is sounding, but just then, even though we had a green light, the bus driver stopped and stood up. Everyone on the street, even half way through crossing just stood at attention. Then, as the siren wound down, life continued on as normal with traffic flowing (or not), horns blowing, and shopping at the shuk.

  • Later in the day, we visited Har Herzl. Each grave was laden with flowers, candles, and flags. It was remarkable to see the site filled with visitors, including Israelis, foreigners, family members, and people with no connection to any of the buried. Har Herlz probably gets more visitors on Yom Ha’Zikaron than Arlington Cemetery all year.

  • One of the most noticeable changes in pace is on the radio. Yom Ha’Shoah and Yom Ha’Zikaron are the only two days when Galgalatz plays only Hebrew, and specifically sad music.

  • The most bizarre thing, however, is that within in seconds of sunset, the entire country transforms into one big celebration.