Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Holidays in the Land of the Extreme

In just under one hour's time, the state of Israel will come to a standstill for two minutes, and the only sound we will hear will be the melancholy wail of a siren, reminding us that today we mourn. We mourn for our fallen soldiers, and we mourn for those killed in terror attacks. Israeli television programming is dedicated to the fallen, with a continuous run of personal stories of those who have fallen, and those they left behind. Songs on the radio are sad and beautiful, songs of love and loss, of young lives cut short before their time. One can't help but be swept up in this wave of national mourning, especially given that nearly everyone knows someone who has been killed, or someone who knows someone, etc. You get the picture. It is a loss that is tangible and current, and the wounds are very much open, far from healed.

Following Holocaust Remembrance Day, I got into a brief discussion with another blogger, as we wondered whether our native-born counterparts felt as emotional upon hearing the siren as we did, as immigrants who had chosen to make Israel our home. Sadly, we came to the conclusion (following conversations with the native Israelis in our lives) that we, as people who had not grown up with the siren, were more moved emotionally. Now that we've reached Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror, I wonder if today's siren is felt differently, if our young Israelis are more moved by the symbolism of an event that touches them personally, as opposed to the siren of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks an event that for many Israelis, is a historical event.

One of the most interesting facets of this day, though, is the switch. The switch that we will make this evening, as Israel transitions straight from deep sadness into pure, unadulterated joy. Within moments, Memorial Day turns into Independence Day, and the celebrations for Israel's 58th year as an established state begin. Fireworks, festivities and happy pandemonium take over the country from North to South, as each city and town tries to outdo not only its own previous celebrations, but also those taking place in other towns. Singing and dancing, free concerts and performances, children and teenagers happily running through the streets with their friends… Only in our land of extremes could such a transition of emotions be possible.

And yet, I can't help but wonder about the families of the fallen. Do they make the transition as well? How is it possible to be mourning the loss of a child, a parent, a spouse, a sibling in one moment, and celebrating our independence the next? I can't even imagine being able to do such a thing. I question whether it is wise to mark these events so close together, whether the mourning on one day makes the next day even more unbearable, as you are once again left alone with your pain while everyone around you has moved on. When we mark the day of our first son's passing, whether or not we actively mark the day, I am careful never to schedule a joyful event on that day or the next, whether it be dinner out with friends, a concert or show. I don't do it. I can't. All this for a child who was with us for less than seven months. How do these parents do it, after losing a child who's been with them for so much longer? How do they make the switch? Strong people they must be.

In any event, we will be quietly celebrating this evening, barbecuing on our porch with He (my blogging partner) and family, watching the fireworks with our children as our dog cowers in our shower, shaking uncontrollably as he waits for it all to be over, as tradition dictates (which will inevitably be followed by weeks where he will refuse to go out after dark for his evening walk, afraid that the fireworks and other loud noises will catch him unprepared out in the open). Tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, while every other Israeli will be outside searching for a few blades of grass on which to start their barbecue (I've seen people barbecue here on traffic islands), I will be comfortably ensconced on my couch (sans bird), watching Israeli films from the 60s and 70s and running around the house after the little one, who has no need for such traditions, despite the fact that he's a first-generation native-born Israeli. Whatever happens, yihyeh tov (it will be good).


And here's a little post-siren update. I ended up getting roped into a conference call with some of the folks from work. When the siren started, I could hear the scraping of chairs all around, and then all went quiet as we stayed on the phone, each standing silently in their respective locations (with me silently praying that my dog, who was laying on the floor behind me, would not start to howl, as he sometimes does in these circumstances). Once the siren ended, we went back to our meeting without skipping a beat. Only in Israel, I think.


RR said...

What a beautiful post, She- yet so sad as well. I am so sorry for your loss. Losing a child... I can't imagine being able to celebrate ANYTHING so soon after such a sad anniversary. That must be a very hard day for you every year. God, I'm so sorry.

Once again, you've made me consider something from a different perspective- I admit that when I wrote about how it makes sense to celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut right after Yom Hazikaron, I wasn't thinking about the parents of fallen soldiers.

Now that you've prompted me to think about things from their point of view, I'm no longer 100% sure it's such a good idea. Is it fair to those people to be forced to confront a holiday of nonstop happiness and celebration right after the day that their unimaginable grief is amplified to the fullest? Good question.

Nicole said...

Great post She. And just as well you pointed out that He is your blogging partner - he's been so quiet lately that we've forgotten him...
Come back He!

Emah S said...


nrg said...

He who???

Lovely post, She. Excellent question. It seems a bit much to ask of those who experience memorial day as a day of very personal grief to then encourage partying and merry-making the very next day. However, maybe it is to remind them that the losses of the first day have made the celebrations of the second day possible? Perhaps that what the close proximity is meant to remind everyone of. That the independence came and continues to come at a price...

Liza said...

rr: Thank you rr. It has actually gotten quite a bit easier over time (it's been just over seven years), and easier still since our 2 yr-old was born.

On the one hand, I think it does make sense to have one day follow directly after the other, as it is due to those we commemorate and remember on Memorial Day that we are able to celebrate Independence Day (Israeli husband said that it's this way on purpose, for that reason). On the other hand, I can't imagine a national day where the entire country focuses on my loss, magnifying it and bringing it to the forefront, then suddenly saying, "okay, it's sundown, time to stop being sad. Got to go view fireworks and barbecue with friends now." It seems almost cruel.

nicole: He should be back soon - he's promised to write a special post in the next few days, so keep your eyes open! :-)

emah s: Thanks. :-) Just think - next year, you'll be here, marking these events with all of Israel as well!

nrg: Yes, it has been a long time since He has posted, but He should be doing so shortly.

You are right about the reason for the close proximity of the dates (at least according to my husband), but it still seems a lot to ask from so many families. For those of us fortunate enough not to have lost loved ones, we can make the switch. For those who have lost, it's like the nation forces them to publicly share their hell, and once the day is over, we leave them there, as we rush off to celebrate independence. While obviously, it's something that's always with these people, I'm not sure that it's such a good idea to force them to focus extra attention in such a public way, and then poof! we stop. I just don't know.

nrg said...

It could be that these people celebrate in a different manner than those who aren't "directly" effected by memorial day. Maybe they aren't "left there" as everyone else rushes off to watch fireworks. Perhaps it gives their grief meaning and purpose, gives an answer to that question about whether or not everything happens for a reason. I'm just throwing stuff out there.... I have been blessed with little grief in my life, so I couldn't say how I would deal with the mourning to celebrating transition on the head of a pin...

Want to be a Leaver said...

What sort of a nation is one that uses military sirens to announce/celebrate such anniversaries?
Every time I hear them - from a city in the West Bank - I'm reminded with those days when the Scud Rockets/missiles were hitting the area. Terrifying memories for one who was only 9/10 at the time.
This is not all, thoughts jump into my mind when I hear the sirens - thoughts related to those days - 'Are there some more missiles thrown on the area?', 'Is there a war - that sort of a war - breaking-out?'.
Your nation seems not to only intend to remind themselves with their miseries, but also freak us - the Palestinians - out, as if we're not already freaked out by all those checkpoints and terminals placed in the West Bank, the Apertheid Wall of Hate placed on West Bank lands, all those colonies/settlements expantions, bombing our cities and villages, killing some innocent Palestinians - along side with those put on 'the list' as terrorists - killing our youth from within, the annexation of the Jordan Valley to Israel - leaving Israel with more than 80% of historic Palestine instead of the 50% suggested before the zionist war against the Palestinians and the British Mandate in 1948. For God's sake people - who ever God for u is, for it doesn't matter/ it's 'Nature' for me, by the way - open your eyes to the present. You are being held back by ur past, by being constantly reminded of ur past. And by 'open your eyes' bussiness, I don't only mean the Israeli Occupation oppression against the Palestinians, but also the fact that you and other peoples of Earth are ruled by FEAR by those who think that they got it right.
Earth is drawning underneath our feet, people!