Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tears, Flags and Fireworks

I think I've concluded that this is my favorite day of the year - Yom Ha'atzmaut. It just doesn't get any more meaningful than this. I believe that I've written about the Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha'atzmaut (Independence Day) ceremony almost every year that we've been here. But I am struck by it in a new way every...single...year. So here we go.

On Yom Hazikaron, which was last night through this evening, we remember those who gave their lives so that we may live in Eretz Yisrael. We remember all of the soldiers who have fallen in battle, all of those killed in terrorist attacks, and all of those who fought for us so bravely. It's a very solemn day and one that includes two piercing sirens throughout the country, many memorial services and many television and radio features like that for Yoseph Goodman.

And, unfortunately, it's not some intangible thing. My older boys related today that their ceremony at school included three boys who have lost brothers in the last few years in the army and in terrorist attacks. Three boys - in their school - who have first-hand knowledge of what this sacrifice means and of what the day represents.

In the early evening, we began our ceremony in the yishuv remembering those who have fallen. This year, they selected a local person, Tzachi Sasson. Tzachi was killed by terrorists during the Second Intifada in 2001 while returning home from work. Tonight, I felt such a sense of coming full circle while two people read about Tzachi's life. In 2001, we had committed to come and spend Pesach with our friends, Rafi and Atzila Abbo, who had been part of the Torah Mitzion Kollel in Washington the previous two years.

I was nervous to make the trip. It was the height of the Intifada and things were very unstable and difficult in Israel. As a final push, I decided that I would call Rafi one random day and have him reassure me that we were doing the right thing by visiting and that we would be safe. As I called, he had just returned from the cemetery and from burying his life-long friend, Tzachi.

Obviously, we made the trip.

11 years later, Rafi's children were playing beautiful music in the background as someone read about Tzachi's life. And here we were - eight souls, eight Jewish human beings who are living in Israel today partly because of Rafi and Atzila Abbo - partly because of Tzachi.

After a few more solemn parts to the ceremony, they declared Yom Hazikaron to be finished and raised the flag back to full mast. And then it was time to party! This brings in Yom Ha'atzmaut, where we celebrate the very fact that Israel has managed to exist for 64 years.

During this part of the ceremony, my kindergartener participated in a dance, and the seventh grade kids did a flag dance, and 10 people from the yishuv were honored for their commitment and service to the community.

And then, the part that makes me cry every single year began. We all stood up and sang Hatikva together. This is Israel's national anthem, the song that talks of our yearning for our homeland, and we stand there together as an entire yishuv and sing at the top of our lungs. And it never - ever - fails that I cry and look around wondering why no one else is.

Every year I think to myself - this must be a dream. I think of the blood, sweat and tears of our people for the last 2000 years - and of what it took to make the creation of the modern State of Israel a reality. And I think of the baby in my arms (because there always seems to be one there) and of his future. And I think of my bigger children and the journey they are on. And I look around at the hundreds of people, all of whom are building our homeland together, and I cry.

And then, the lights go out and everyone cheers as the sky explodes in fireworks.

I realized this year, while watching and enjoying the bright lights and the crackling sky, that I actually drew even more pleasure from staring, instead, at the faces of my children. I turned first to Yehuda, watching the look of amazement and joy light up his face every other second as the fireworks popped above; I looked at Zeli's amazement and I stared at Yakir's bewilderment mixed with joy. Their faces would darken, and then the fireworks would burst forth, lighting their expressions all over again.

Chag Sameach. 64 years later, we are home.

4 comments:

  1. You were definitely not the only one crying! I was too!! I even cried through the fireworks. For some reason, the words to "Chai" really got to me this year.

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  2. I cried to - even when the little kids did the dance and i didnt even have a kid in that group. I just love every bit of it, but mostly what it all stands for.

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  3. Me too! And, Romi, I think of you when I cry, feeling reassured from your blog that I'm not the only one!
    What really got me this year was the song during the fireworks about "Ze HaShir Shel Saba, Shar Etmol L'Abba...", since Shlomo's dad is visiting. Returning and rebuilding Israel was definitely NOT the song Shlomo was raised on, but the Jewish soul inherently yearns to be here, so we are and Am Yisrael in Medinat Yisrael Chai!

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  4. I cried through much of Yom Hazikaron, thinking about so many who have sacrifieced their lives so that we can live in our holy land. And I cried many times on Yom Ha'atzmaut, still not believing sometimes that I actually do live here. It was the most special experience to celebrate Israel's birthday, the way it should be celebrated!

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