This post is currently featured on the South African Zionist Federation’s website:
I love this time of the year in Israel. The country is transformed into a blue and white celebration as the roads are lined and national buildings festooned with Israeli flags. There is a festive atmosphere as many decorate their balconies with flags and of course, barbeques are sold out. This is all in preparation for the National Holidays.
My balcony – dressed and ready!
Israel is several thousand years old but the modern state was founded in 1948. She wears the lines of her history with grace and integrity and a certain sense of humour. At times this is punctuated with a deep sadness and if you look a little closer, sometimes you can see a tear in her eyes.
It is no coincidence that the national holidays fall very closely to each other. We are reminded of the pain of our past and the sacrifices of the many that ensure that we continue to live in our vibrant but flawed democracy. I love her flaws – like anyone who focuses on growth, Israelis engage in deep contemplation so that we can improve. There is nothing Israelis value more than life and this is demonstrated with such heart around these holidays.
This year, they are particularly poignant. Rising antisemitism around the world less than a century after the Holocaust which has resulted in violence and sometimes death is a stark reminder about the perils of not learning from history. On Yom Hashoa, Holocaust martyrs and heroes memorial day, Israelis will pause for a minute as the memorial sirens pierces our consciousness. Cars will come to a complete stop and we will bow our heads in silent memoriam. The tears flow freely and our hearts collectively break. But then the siren stops and we open our eyes and look at the country we have built. Built on miracles. Built on innovation. Built on blood, sweat and tears.
Israel’s citizens stop their cars and bow their heads.
And we will repeat this again the following week for Yom Hazikaron – Memorial Day for soldiers and victims of terror. This year, Israelis will feel this day a lot more acutely. We have endured a wave of terror for the last six months that has cost 34 people (including soldiers, 2 US nationals and a Palestinian) their lives and wounded countless others. Our army and security forces have been working around the clock to keep us all safe. We still feel vulnerable and here in Israel each civilian is family. Sure, we fight and argue amongst ourselves but when we lose one of our own the pain is unbearable! We never take for granted the sacrifices that our soldiers have made so that we can live in peace. On Yom Hazikaron we also remember victims of terror and there is hardly an Israeli family that hasn’t been touched by terrorism in some way. We all know or are related to someone who has been hurt and killed. The sirens will wail and we will remember.
We will remember them.
And then the whole mood of the country changes from one of somber memorial to the biggest celebration!
From the north to the south and everywhere in between, Israelis begin to celebrate! Israel erupts into a giant street party with fireworks, celebration, song and of course…..food!
The country wakes up the next day (some nursing hangovers) to the pervasive smell of al ha aish(braai) and many head to the beach and the forests to engage in a favourite pastime – eating! One of the most special moments is the annual fly over of the IAF featuring planes throughout our history.
Israel’s modern day history is entwined with the Jewish tenets of remembering the past, honouring the lost but never forgetting that which the most sacred of all …….LIFE!
Am Yisrael Chai!
The buildings of the Knesset lit up for Independence Day