Tuesday, July 15, 2014

From Mourning to Fireworks: Memorial and Independence Days In Israel.

On the eve of Israel Independence Day we were a group of 15 friends at our house sitting around talking, eating and laughing. But it wasn’t an ordinary party and I would like to explain. 

Like the American 4th of July, Independence Day in Israel is a great day of celebration and BBQ. However, there is one crucial difference:  in Israel the day prior to  Independence Day is our Memorial Day. The forefathers of Israel decided to hold those two days together because they didn’t want the nation to forget those who have made our independence possible. While this is a worthy sentiment, I find that, with time, it is getting harder and harder for me to shift from the one to the other

Memorial Day is a 24 hour of official mourning: on the eve of Memorial Day each municipality organizes a memorial service to the dead soldiers of that town. During the day each school holds its own memorial service. There is also the central service at the military cemetery at Mount Herzel  in Jerusalem which is  broadcast nationally on TV. The name of all the soldiers who were killed are read on Israeli television and their photos are shown. Throughout the day different tv/radio stations broadcast special programs about battles and soldiers accompanied by sad Israeli songs. At 11 o’clock in the morning a long siren is heard all over Israel and people just stop all that they do and stand still. Many people spend that day at services and cemeteries, while others watch the programs on TV.

Then as though by magic, like the pumpkin who turned into a coach, at 8pm the whole nation is transformed. Fireworks and loud speakers from street parties announce the beginning of Independence Day.  On this night municipalities, who, just the previous night, were publicly lamenting the town dead soldiers, spend a huge amount of money on obtaining the best known Israel singers and performers . Those sing for twenty minutes at their town central stage before moving to the next town. For Israel’s singers this is best night of the year, as they make a lot of money before the night is over.

When my daughters were young we used to take them out to see the fureworks and the streets parties, it was what all the parents  did at that night. 

 My partner and I decided that in order to make the transition from mourning to fireworks easier we would  invite a group of friends for a get-together. It transpired that like us, most of our friends found that night difficult. Staying at home hearing the piercing noise of the loudspeakers from the streets parties was too depressing. Having grown children going to the parties on our own seemed pointless . But after the heaviness of Memorial Day people were ready to go out.

Some years ago I talked to a young woman whose uncle was killed in the 73 Yom Kippur war before she was even born. She said that while she thought that the idea of Memorial/Independence Day was a fine one, she could never enjoy Independence Day. I am sure that for bereaved families every day is difficult but, the in your face nature of the entrance of Independence Day must be unbearable. But even for us, the more fortunate ones, getting together with friends seemed like a comforting option, and a good way of transitioning into the realm "of life goes on" that Independence Day offers.

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