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Two Minutes

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!

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5 comments on “Two Minutes”

  1. Pingback: Remembering the Fallen, April 2013

  2. Jodie Jensen

    My heart goes out to those Israeli military members who have lost their lives. My own spouse was in the military and we feel the loss of our own service members and friends every day. What a sensitive way to remember their sacrifice. Our family has been doing their genealogy. During a visit to Denmark by our eldest daughter, she was able to hear the story of her uncle Lars who was part of the Danish national police. When Hitler’s puppets were forcing Denmark to round up their Jewish citizens for deportation and slaughter, the Danish police refused to be a part of the horror and were thrown into concentration camps. Our uncle Lars was one of the brave who refused to participate in the orders of the Nazis and was sent to a camp. Our daughter was in tears sharing her pride at the stalwart character of her uncle.
    May your celebration of this 65th anniversary of the Jewish nation be filled with joy and touching moments. I was in Israel last October and will return with my husband this coming October. It is a land one does not soon forget.
    Your books have been insightful and inspirational. They have brought me closer to my own faith in God (I am a Mormon.) and give me much food for thought. Thank you for sharing your culture and religion in a way that touches all who read your stories.
    Again, Happy Anniversary to Israel.

  3. Zoltan Galos

    Happy 65th birthday, Israel, a most beautiful country, filled with joy, and a positive attitude the whole world is in dire need of. I have been fortunate to have seen the country and made part of it through our charismatic and most knowledgeable tour guide Herman.

  4. Walt Gottesman

    Happy 65th to everyone in Medinat Yisrael! Thank you Naomi for your wonderful word-pictures in this post, mixed with sadness and joy. Thank you Israel, for being alive.

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