Every year, on this day (the Hebrew date is the same) each year I try to look inside myself and write something reflective about the Holocaust. In Israel, we have Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day. And then a week later we have Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), and immediately after we switch to Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day).
Like most things these days, this year is different for me. Usually, I’d be in Israel. On Erev Yom Hashoa I'd go to the nearest synagogue or community-hosted event to hear a Holocaust survivor tell their horrific, but always miraculous, story. Always, I'd cry. Firstly, sad tears for the 6 million Jews & millions of others lost in such a devastating piece of human history. Then tears of joy because this person speaking it me, and luckily many others (although not nearly enough), survived and had families to carry on their legacies. Without their miracles, many in the room and possibly even the country I'm standing in wouldn't exist. I'd just think, wow, what a time to be alive.
One week later, on Erev Yom Hazikaron, I’d do something similar. I’d go to the nearest tekes (ceremony). At sundown, we’d all stop for 60 seconds, one single minute in silence together, and then we’d hear about fallen heroes and those lost to terrorist attacks. Again, I’d cry (because I always do). Firstly, tears of sadness for the nearly 10,000 that were lost (all too soon), and then my tears of joy that the rest of us are still standing because of their sacrifices. I'd just think, what a time to be alive.
The next 24 hours would be somber. But at sundown, we’d switch. Finally, Yom HaAtzmaut. No more sadness. I’d wander the streets decked out in blue & white (I have multiple outfits for the occasion), a cold Goldstar beer in hand, and celebrate with strangers who feel more like family. We'd party all night and the next day we'd barbecue on each other's rooftops and watch the air show from the beach - a reminder of the amazing fact that Israel even exists. As the jets flew over our heads we’d all think, what a time to be alive.
But this year will obviously be different. For starters, I’m not even in Israel. And even if I were, there are still quite heavy restrictions in place because there is a global pandemic. In Israel we’ve been lucky. We’re still under 200 deaths, whereas other nations have lost thousands. As I myself figure out what to do in order to mark these quintessential Israeli days, I wonder what others will do. Will we all still cry our tears of both sorrow and joy for the holocaust survivors & heroes, even though we are crying as we struggle with the loneliness of being couped up, the worry of catching a deadly virus, or the desperation of suddenly finding ourselves without financial resources? Will we be able to celebrate that Am Yisrael Chai, the people of Israel live, when we can’t be together?
All I can think is, what a time to be alive.