Today is Israel Memorial Day – The day Israel commemorates its fallen soldiers who lost their lives in the struggle that led to the establishment of the State of Israel and for those who were killed during active duty in Israeli’s armed forces. In recent years, the commemoration has extended to victims of terrorist attacks.
The Memorial Day here in Israel is quite different in mood and character than the Memorial Day that I grew up with in the States.
Here, for 24 hours (from sunset to sunset), all places of public entertainment are closed and flags are lowered at half mast.
The most noticeable feature of the day is the sound of the siren that is heard throughout the country twice during this 24 hours period; 8:00 PM to mark the start of the day of mourning, and 11:00 AM on the next day. During this time, everything (everything) comes to a halt. At school. At work. Even traffic. Even shopping. (See my experience this morning while shopping for food for the upcoming Bat Mitzvah of our daughter. The siren is faint, but it goes off at about 1 minute into the video. And, back to routine at around 3:00 minutes.)
Everyone, even children, like my 3-year-old son, stands in attention – hands by the sides, head tilted slightly down, for two full minutes.
Radio stations and T.V. stations are fully dedicated to broadcasting music and programming appropriate for this “holiday”.
Schools organize their own memorial services.
The day is even more enhanced by the sight of children and teenagers all dressed in white shirts and blue pants or skirts, on the way to school, and thousands of soldiers on their way to military cemeteries.
There is nothing “happy” about the Memorial Day here in Israel.
There are no picnics.
There are no barbecues.
There are no sales.
Here, the day is felt by all, even by those who may not have a first degree of separation between a loved one that was killed.
And yet, I’m still wrapped up in this day, like the rest of the country.
And, I can see how easy it can be to get stuck in the mourning.
Of the loss of a child.
Or the loss of a spouse.
Or the loss of a fellow platoon mate.
How does one get past that?
I can imagine how one would just want to stay in a place of sadness, grief, anger, resentment and guilt.
And yet, this is not how the Israeli calendar has evolved.
And this is not how Israelis lived.
Instead, the country has chosen to mark the holiday appropriately and then move intentionally move forward.
The country “S” stops (literally) and pauses on this day.
It “T” tells itself how it is feeling, and shares those feelings with others.
It sees what’s “U” underneath those feelings, the unfairness, the politics, the attempts at a peace process.
But, yes, it also “C” chooses a perspective – that there is a time and place for everything.
A time to mourn.
And, a time to dance.
The holiday here doesn’t end in an amorphous kind of way.
Instead, it ends with an intentional and clear transition, of mourning to celebration.
It ends in a ceremony in which the flag is raised back up again.
It ends with a declaration of Statehood.
It ends with a beginning.
Of another celebration.
Israeli’s Independence Day.
Another 24 hour celebration.
This time, focused on life.
With no time for being stuck on the previous day.