I'm a complete sucker when it comes to Yom Ha'Atzmaut here in Israel. I always - and I mean always - cry at these performances. If you were here, you'd understand how out of place crying is - but I just don't seem to be able to help it.
Israel has an amazing tradition for Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha'Atzmaut (Independence Day) of having these events back to back. That means that last night and today was a very solemn day here when we pay our respects to those who have died creating and building this country for us. Many people go to the graves where the soldiers are buried, and there are performances in school, gifts sent to soldiers who come to class, etc.
Then, as the evening comes, Memorial Day turns to Independence Day. What was solemn and reflective turns celebratory and festive. It's an amazing idea and an amazing way to live really. Recognizing those who have given their lives for the country, and moving directly from that to the joy for which they sacrificed.
So, we have a very sweet ceremony in the yishuv for these events. At about 7pm they started and said a number of things about the soldiers who have died and been hurt for the country - and those who have been in terror attacks. Then, they honor about 10 people from the yishuv for various things they've done to help the larger community. Each one is called up and lights a candle.
And then they turn from the solemn feeling to a festive one. The kindergarten kids (including Yehuda this year!) did a cute performance to a song about Israel. Yehuda practiced for days with his group and they did a great job. Then, the 7th grade kids have a flag dance that they do every year and that they see as a great honor. They dance with Israeli flags and I always get choked up - those will be our kids someday and they are dancing about their country and celebrating the freedom to live here as modern Jews in Israel.
Then, to finish off they have a great fireworks display. The event always hits me and represents our aliyah to me. There we are - standing together with our entire community - celebrating something that was such an unimaginable dream just 60 years ago. And our kids are part of it and are growing up here with these passionate beliefs about their country and their people.
When you see fireworks on the 4th of July, it doesn't choke you up, per se. They are pretty and fun - but they don't have much meaning beyond that. When you stand together here and look out at the mountains of our ancestors, and watch fireworks that represent our struggles - your neighbor's struggles - struggles that are so fresh and so recent - it means something entirely different. And that is the meaning of our aliyah. Those fireworks, and the chance to celebrate here in Neve Daniel, is why we moved!
Happy Birthday Israel. Here's to another 60...and 60 after that...and 60 after that...