Monday, April 15, 2013

Memorial Day in Israel

Jewish holidays begin at sundown and last until the following sundown, the Jewish Sabbath also starts at sundown and runs until the next sundown.

Israel's memorial day for its fallen soldiers and for those murdered in terrorist attacks within Israel and abroad also begins the same way. It starts at sundown with a ceremony, and then the following day, the entire country stops-traffic stops everywhere in the country for two minutes while sirens blare and people remember together those we have lost. It's a humbling experience.

During the day, there are documentaries about fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism on throughout the day. Somber songs are played on the radio, there are no public concerts, or festive events. People visit the graves of friends, children and relatives and remember and weep.

Then, toward the end of the day, the environment gets closer to changing. As darkness falls, Memorial Day sundown turns into the beginning of Israeli Independence Day celebrations, a uniquely Jewish and Israel meld of mourning and celebration-a seamless transition from the grave and somber to an insistence-a defiant insistence on celebration and on the living. From sorrow to exuberance. From tears and graves, to joy. It's hard to describe the depths of the mourning and the extent of the celebration.

Memorial days are painful for Jews, because it's rare that there is a Jewish family that has not been touched by genocide or terrorism and my own is no exception.

This remembrance day, like others, I remember my brother-in-law David Cohen, who was murdered in Hebron as he went to work in July 2001. I remember the unreality of reading the story first thing in the morning about a 29 year old from Beitar being critically wounded-even before my husband's family had called us to tell us what was happening. I remember collapsing in the office, being unable to drive home and trying to find the words to support my husband as I rushed to get him on the next flight to Israel, trying to get him there to at least say farewell.

I remember the unreality.

I remember them telling me how peaceful he looked-like he was sleeping. And I remember my sister in law telling me how the Arabs at Hadassah hospital ululated when he died.

On this memorial day, I also remember Esther and Syke Paltzur-my mother's friends from her first visits to Israel, who were murdered-along with a friend-in Cyprus, by Palestinian terrorists on their boat. I remember my mother getting the call, her cries-oh no-and their oldest child Tali suddenly finding herself as older sister and mother to the three other instant orphans. I remember her reassuring my parents that they were alright, that they would be alright. I remember the pictures in TIME magazine of the bodies slumped over the rails of the sailboat.

On this memorial day, I also remember the victims that I never knew-but mourned through the stories that I heard of, or knew peripherally. I remember hearing the explosions, I remember being scared to ride buses, I remember being there a few minutes before the explosions, I remember riding on the exact bus line. Too many to mention, but their stories are my stories-their stories are our stories-the entire Jewish people's

May the memories of all the victims be a blessing, may G-d protect their souls, and comfort the mourners for whom the pain never ends.

No words. From the "Yisrael Artzenu" Facebook page.