This past weekend were what I believe to be two of the most important days of the year for Israel, and they also happen to be my favorite. In Israel Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day) are celebrated back-to-back in an intense tradition of deep mourning that switches to grand celebration. Part of why I love these two days so much, as hard as they can be, is because to me they embody the truly paradoxical spirit of Israel and life in Israel. Eastern culture meeting Western, people full of both generous love and brutal honesty, ancient history and modern technology—so many things here are full of two extremes, coming together in unique harmony.
Although I was here last year for these two incredible days, each year I am in Israel I seek to do something new. As much as people like to believe it, there isn't necessarily an "everybody does this" in Israel. The country is full of many types of people with many types of experiences who observe and celebrate in their own ways.
Yom Hazikaron (יום הזיכרון)
This year on Erev Yom Hazikaron (the night memorial day officially begins) our Ulpan took us to a ceremony on the neighborhood promenade. Community leaders and volunteers conducted the ceremony with participants from schools, community groups, and other community members. Each neighborhood generally has a ceremony like this where they read the names of soldiers and victims of terrorism lost in their neighborhood. Although all of us at the Ulpan are newcomers to the neighborhood, it felt very special to partake in such a meaningful ceremony.
The next day we went to the high school next door to partake in a similar ceremony. Most schools around Israel have these ceremonies. Friends, siblings, parents, and alumni currently serving in the army attend to remember and honor those lost.
The level of collective mourning is beautiful. But when you take a step back and realize that just about every person in Israel has a connection to at least one fallen soldier or victim of terror it is terribly sad.
Yom Haatzmaut (יום האצמאות)
Erev Yom Haatzmaut (after sundown on Yom Hazikaron) is probably my favorite part of it all. After the intense day of mourning Israelis take it to the streets and celebrate! There are concerts set up all over the country, vendors sell treats and flags, and people young and old go out to celebrate that Israel exists and has made it through another year. Naturally I joined them. A group of friends and I from the Ulpan went out in the streets of Jerusalem, dancing the night away, watching fireworks, and feeling so special to have our first Yom Haatzmaut as true Israeli citizens.
The next day I headed to Netanya with more friends to have a BBQ (al-ha'esh in Hebrew). The weather was so intensely windy that we had to take things inside, but it was great fun nonetheless. I think we grilled just about everything you could think of to grill. There's nothing like good friends and good food in a great place.
Here's to you Israel! Happy 67th Birthday and to 67 more!!!