The festivities for Israel’s 65th Independence Day are in full swing. But for us in Israel, before the hora dancing, the plastic hammers, and the fireworks, there are the sirens. Two minutes of time to stand and think.
First, the siren goes off for Holocaust Memorial Day. It stops traffic. We get out on the highway, eyes closed, hearts heavy. The scenes rip through our souls: emaciated bodies in piles, starving children in rags, family members ripped apart and sent to their death in factory-like settings conceived by meticulous Germans with their talent for efficiency. We are there, all of us, the devout and the atheist, dressed in black gabardine and the latest Paris fashions, stuffed altogether into box-cars, locked in, helpless. Jews.
The siren seems to go on forever. Then it stops. We breathe again. We go back to our normal lives, only to be confronted exactly a week later with another siren, another two minutes, this time for Memorial Day for our fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Every year the number grows. This year it is 23,085 soldiers, and 974 victims of terror. Every single one was someone’s beloved: a son or daughter, father or mother, brother or sister. Someone whose death ripped a hole in the lives of so many who will never stop grieving until the end of their days. Our soldiers, those strong, beautiful young Jewish men and women with their whole lives ahead of them whose promise was cut short not by accident, but by their conscious decision to sacrifice their personal safety and well-being to protect and cherish the precious dream that has finally come true for their people after thousands of years. Without them, there would be no State of Israel, no place for persecuted Jews to come to avoid the fate of every single Jew in every single generation since the fall of the Herodian temple in Jerusalem: a life of persecution, fear, prejudice, helplessness and causeless hatred.
Our victims of terror: babies in carriages wheeled by grandmothers in the park, elderly survivors sitting down with their families to a Passover seder in an Israeli hotel, teenagers riding a bus, young girls at a Tel Aviv night club killed by bombs, knives, guns wielded by hate-filled strangers….
Two minutes. And then the siren’s chilling wail fades slowly into silence. Night falls. We leave our homes and make our way to the center of town where bands play joyous music and crowds line the streets, our heads twinkling with flashing lights, waving flags. Soldiers and yeshiva boys, grandfathers and young children join hands and dance with joy; young girls in jeans, religious women with head coverings dance the hora as the music – Ashkenazi and Sephardi melodies brought from every Jewish Diaspora fills the night air.
We look on, moving our feet to the music, our faces alight with smiles, Ethiopian and Russian immigrants, American and British olim, camera-wielding tourists, all of us now Israelis, part of the largest Jewish community in the world, a beautiful, blooming, thriving, young, hopeful, joyous nation, whose people are among the happiest in the world, the youngest, the smartest, the most hopeful. We are all, citizens of Israel, experiencers of miracles. We have seen Divine prophecies come true, watched our country swell and prosper with the ingathering of the exiles, ingenious new industries. We have come home to our own land, and we have secured her with our labor and our love and our sacrifice. And every year, for as long as we live, we will stop twice and give two minutes each time to the blinding grief and unbearable sacrifice which gave birth to our joy and in which it is rooted, and then, we will go out and give thanks and rejoice.
God bless the land of Israel and her precious people. Happy 65th!