08 May 2019
Between Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut
by Tal Greenberg
Forty-eight hours of jostling between sadness and pride, between difficulty and joy, between sad songs and happy fireworks. Yom Hazikaron, or Memorial Day in Israel, is such a special day that even those who do not know any of the IDF’s fallen soldiers experience it with great force. It begins with a memory whistle lasting a minute at eight in the evening and continues with memorial ceremonies in every city in the country and TV programs in memory of the fallen, one after the other. Communal “singing evenings” with sad songs take place everywhere, and it’s hard to breathe.
The two-minute siren at eleven in the morning opens the memorial ceremonies at the military cemetery. Tens of thousands of people and masses of soldiers honor the memories of the fallen by placing memorial wreaths, saying kaddish, and crying.
As a student, I went to interview bereaved parents in a Moshav (a small town) in southern Israel as part of a project to commemorate soldiers from my high school. As a soldier, and later as an officer in the Education Corps, I had the privilege of accompanying families I had not known before at memorial ceremonies, and I participated in amazing projects. I took part in one project with my soldiers when I served in the city of Haifa that I’ll never forget. We distributed a list of all the IDF’s fallen soldiers from the city, and in the days before Memorial Day, we passed through every cemetery where the fallen soldiers were buried in order to place a wreath, a candle and a flag at each grave. We read about each of the soldiers, learned about them through their stories, watched videos from their childhoods, and felt the pain of their families.
My heart ached as I tried to imagine those young soldiers who had fallen as grownups, as fathers and mothers of beautiful kids they could have raised. I imagined the kids, who were left without one of their parents, who would not be able to experience the rest of their lives with that parent. I could not help thinking about how Israel is surrounded by enemies, about our duty to enlist, and how the peace we are wishing for seems so far away from us.
On Memorial Day all places of entertainment are closed. There is silence in the air. The air feels heavy. There is an atmosphere of togetherness, of caring, of brotherhood and of love.
I remember myself as a schoolgirl attending the memorial ceremonies. Dancing to the Yom Hazikaron songs, reading a text about a fallen soldier who was killed in a war, watching the soldiers who came from their bases to honor the occasion. Until it was my turn, and I was the one coming back to that same high school. This time in a uniform, to see all my friends from various army units, to consider how time passed so quickly and how now it was our turn. We’re the ones in uniform. Standing proudly and saluting the song of hope. At that moment, you can’t help but feel even more connected to the military world, to the world in which we fight with our bodies for our country.
Then, at eight o’clock in the evening, the Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day) festivities begin with a special ceremony broadcast from Jerusalem. There are festivities in every city and town in Israel, with performances by famous artists and fireworks in the sky, with big celebrations. Many people meet for private parties, for a traditional barbeque, to celebrate with songs, dances and so much joy. The next day, the 5th of Iyar, many families go out for picnics and the nature reserves are full. The beaches are packed, the world Bible quiz is broadcast on TV, and the streets are all decorated in blue and white.
In just a minute we switch from sadness to joy, from crisis to rebirth. Every year, many questions come to mind. Is it possible for a person to make such a sharp switch from sadness to joy? And what about the bereaved families – do they manage to celebrate? Should we put a weekday between the two special days in order to allow for recovery?
At the same time, I also think perhaps that is exactly the point, this balance between sadness and joy. The inseparable connection between the sacrifice of their lives and our living in an independent state. Perhaps this connection symbolizes the complexity of life itself, which naturally moves between sadness and joy.
“And in their death they ordered us to live” and we remain honored, remembered and cherished, and at the same time continue to do our best to make our small country a good place to live, and a great privilege to be.
I have no answers, and probably never will have any. I have only great pride in belonging to my nation and to my special country.
To the glory of the State of Israel.