On Yom Hazikaron

A reflection from Avia Halevi, Federation’s Educational Engagement Shlicha (Israeli emissary)

Yom Hazikaron (Israeli National Remembrance Day), 2019. I’m in the Chabad house in Delhi, India. I had just gotten here. I wasn’t planning on spending the two weeks I had in northern India in the chaos of the main bazaar (market) in Delhi. But this day was different.

The place was packed with backpackers, planning their return home or just beginning their journey. Someone put loud Israeli music on, the smell of freshly made falafel came from the restaurant upstairs, and everywhere I looked I saw young Israelis excited about the adventures the day will bring.

I kept reminding myself: “it’s Yom Hazikaron.”

At Mount Herzl, I say to the people around me, “the siren is about to begin.” I get a short glimpse before people go back to their business. So, I go outside to the little porch and there, with a few others, we share a two-minute moment of silence accompanied by a siren from my phone speaker. It sounds like it’s so far away, like how far Israel felt from me in that moment, but looking around me I knew it existed, loud and strong, in everyone’s hearts.

I struggle with Yom Hazikaron every year, especially because I feel like the transition to Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) the next day is too quick. Sadness becomes happiness, the ceremonies change. Long, chilling sirens become music concerts everywhere. The sound of the single cold bullet shot in the silence, becomes cheery colorful fireworks. Surreal.

But the heart can’t transition so fast, so Yom Hazikaron is still there, every year, even long after Yom Haatzmaut’s last firework lingers.

This year, as a Jewish Agency shlicha (Israeli emissary) at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, I’m afraid the struggle will be more difficult. Six months have passed since October 7th, and every day feels like Yom Hazikaron.

I hope to be able to discuss my grief in a gentle, soft way, through creating art with members of this community in an exhibition called “Wrapping Memory,” which describes the slow-paced life in the Gaza Envelope that I miss so much, and strengthening the sense of community with much understanding to the ones who try maybe, only on this one day, to forget.