Friday, May 4, 2012

Independence Day and Night

Life in Israel is more intense than anywhere else I have lived. I believe in “Israel Time”-life here is simply at a different pace. Not necessarily slower or faster, just denser. Suddenly one finds that another week has ended and it is already Shabbat, and then time stops completely.

The month of April was full of excitement and sped by. Vacation days included: Passover in Israel (always a treat), the Moroccan post-Passover feast of Mimouna, Holocaust Remembrance on Yom HaShoa, Memorial Day/ Yom haZicharon.

Yom ha’Atzmaut, Independence Day, was the last of the holidays for a while. Like their American counterparts, Israelis can’t resist a good barbeque to mark the creation of their state. More on that later.

The day before Independence Day is Yom haZicharon, one of the solemnest days of the year here. Unlike in America, no matter who you are—even a new oleh—you can’t help but feel the loss of those who died serving the state. Yom haZicharon begins at nightfall like all Jewish/Israeli holidays. I went to a ceremony in my neighborhood at the promenade overlooking the Jerusalem hills and the Old City. At 8 pm prompt there was a memorial siren and everyone stood still, quiet. Two minutes later, the ceremony recommenced. Sad songs were played and names of the fallen were read, many of whom have been memorialized in the names of nearby streets.

The next morning, I attended another memorial ceremony with Ulpan Etzion at a local high school. Another siren, more silence. So much respect for the fallen, even at a high school. Complete silence, perhaps one of the only times you will ever hear something of the sort in Israel.

During this day, the air is so heavy, so thick, so damp with sadness. Last year, even the days leading up to Yom haZicharon affected me, got me down.

Live Concert in Downtown Jerusalem
But sunset comes as it must, and everything changes so fast. Typical “Israel Time.” And now it is Yom ha’Atzmaut and it is time to celebrate the creation of Israel. The city comes alive. One can find special lectures and prayer services, dancing, music till late hours of the night. Everyone takes to the streets, from the most secular to the most religious, from new olehs to people whose families’ presence in Israel predates the state itself.

Families in Gan Sacher Park, Jerusalem
On to the food. Like all Jewish holidays, there is a lot of food on Yom ha’Atzmaut. During the day, there are a lot of barbeques. Even my ulpan had a barbeque! Sounds like the Fourth of July, and in many way it is, except with kebobs. However, Israelis are a social lot and congregate in public spaces throughout the country. This year, after ulpan’s barbeque I joined another barbeque in Gan Sacher, one of Jerusalem’s biggest and most central parks. There were a lot of international students at the barbeque and we were surrounded by Israeli families cooking on small, portable charcoal grills.

It is something special to celebrate all together, to ride the waves of emotion from sadness to joy be’yachad, as one.

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