Monday, April 15, 2013

Yom HaZikaron as an Olah

When the sirens sound through the silence of the night, everyone at the ceremony stands.  Yet, despite the standing, bodies begin to slump forward, their gazes staring holes in the ground.   Minds race as the one minute siren continues to encircle the space around us.  When the sirens stops, it's silent.  The only sound is the wind hitting the plastic blue and white flags that have been strung across the courtyard. 

When people sit back down, their eyes are wet. 

I made Aliyah almost 3 years ago.  This is my third Yom HaZikaron in Israel: only my third.  And every year, I always feel the same: like I'm an imposter.  Like I shouldn't really be here. 

My strongest memory of Remembrance day in Canada is that all the students used to be herded into the school gym- we'd sit quickly on the white plastic chairs that were lined up along our usually empty gym.  Teachers would stand before us and say something about the bravery of our soldiers, some student would recite "In Flanders Field"  and to end it, our music teacher would play "Last Post" on the trumpet- while we stood in our moment of silence.  I never remember feeling emotional.  I remember being happy to be missing class.  It was only something we did- not something we felt.

When I was in University, they would set fake tombstones along the sports fields.  People would come by and lay wreaths.  I would walk through the field, between the stones, thinking.  I have a connection to this day.  My grandfather fought with the Canadian forces in Italy- he was a part of the invasion of Sicily.  He was injured in the war, and sent back to Canada: never the same as he was before.  Yet, I never remember crying on Remembrance day.  I know I have some sense of pride to be Canadian- but I never feel emotional enough to feel it.

But every year on Yom HaZikaron, I cry.  I get sad.  I get emotional.   I cry for soldiers who died before I was born.  I cry for victims of terror I never met.  I cry for soldiers who are fighting today- the 18 year olds I don't even know.  And every year, I feel a sort of shame.  Like my tears aren't real enough- my emotions can't be justified because I'm new: I'm an Olah.  My neighbor who stands beside me, maybe they went to the army, maybe they know someone who died, maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe.  This is their country from day one.  This is mine from three years ago. 

The Israeli flag blowing in the wind creates the only sound echoing through the courtyard.  It's not the flag that stood throughout the streets when I was growing up.  But it's the flag that hung in my home.  It's the flag that hung in my school.  It's the flag that we ran up the flagpole every morning at camp. 

Today, I'm realizing this day isn't about me- and it's never been.  It's not about my neighbor either.  It's about something more.  I may have grown up in Canada, but I've always been connected to this land- to this people.  I realize that the ground below my feet is steeped in their blood.  All year round we tip toe around it, but on Yom HaZikaron, we cry about it- we remember it, we thank it.  On Yom Ha'atzmaut, we celebrate it.  We cry, because we've lost.  But we celebrate because we're here.  We're here-despite it and because of it.  At the Chuppah of a wedding- we smash a glass- remembering the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash.  Even in simcha: we remember.  And so here it is again with Israel- before she turns 65, we bow our heads to the loss, and we remember.  But tonight we will turn our heads up: we'll gaze at the thousands of flags strung around our city- and those flags we've carefully hung from our balcony. 

And this is something I can feel a part of.  This is something I am a part of.  And that's why I'm emotional.  Because at the end, while everyone stands for HaTikva- the Israeli national anthem, and everyone sings the words: I realize I never remembered learning these words.  They are words I've always known.  It's a poem written in 1877- before the declaration of the state of Israel.  It's a poem that reflects the Jewish yearning to return to the Land of Israel; a reality I'm going to celebrate tonight.

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