Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sunshine after the Sorrow

Shalom, chaverim! Gosh, it seems like in Israel it's just one special occasion after another, each with a different yet intense emotion. There was Pesach a few weeks ago, which was a joyous  national party as well as a religious high point of the year. Last week we experienced the very somber Yom Hashoah, which honored victims of the Holocaust. And this week, we had both Yom Hazikaron and, the day immediately after, Yom Ha'atzmaut.

Yom Hazikaron honors IDF (Israeli Defense Force) soldiers who have been killed in war, in accidents, or in terrorist attacks. The closest U.S. equivalent to this day would be Memorial Day, but it is not a day for picnics or swimming-pool openings; it is much more solemn. There are lots of ceremonies at military cemeteries and public places, and Jewish children in Israeli public schools are usually asked to wear white shirts to school out of respect.

At 8 p.m., all traffic (even trains and buses) and activity stops when air-raid sirens begin to wail throughout the country, as is done on Yom Hashoah. The same thing happens the next day at 11 a.m. Jewish Israelis cease talking and all other activities, stand straight up with hands at the sides in a kind of military stand-at-attention position, and bow their heads to remember the lost. (Arab-Israelis are not expected to do this, of course, but they can if they so choose.) Memorial candles are also lit, and families take time to reminisce about lost loved ones. Since Israel is only 64 years old and has engaged in numerous wars, there is hardly anyone in the country who has not suffered the loss of a family member in their immediate or extended family.

Our neighbor lost his son in an IDF training accident. He procured the tank in which his son was killed, and put it in his front yard as a memorial.
In our case, we were at home the night Yom Hazikaron started, and had just exited a train at 11 a.m. the next day. Hundreds of people were streaming towards the exit, but as soon as the sirens began, it was like playing "Red Light, Green Light" as a child. Everyone just stopped, put their hands at their sides, and stared at the ground as the sirens wailed. When they stopped, everyone just started walking towards the exit again and resumed their normal conversations.

Throughout the day, the television featured poignant interviews with family members of fallen soldiers.  When I was growing up, it was usually only the stiff, posed, official photographs of lost soldiers (i.e. those who had fought in Vietnam) that would be flashed on the television screen, or some grainy home movie footage. Now that home video is so common, however, it made it even sadder to see footage of these lovely young kids just having a great time--training, eating, laughing, dancing, and horsing around.

But it's not all grieving and misery here. Yesterday was Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day.  Over the past few days, stages were erected for ceremonies, announcements of parades and fireworks displays were all around, and groups of young children in blue and white t-shirts practiced their snazzy choreographed moves.

This is the biggest Israeli flag I have ever seen. Seriously.

Trucks and cars have been driving around with flags sticking out of the windows. Houses are decorated, and some cars even have the backs of their side mirrors wrapped with little Israeli flags.

Taxi-driving dude with a flashy nylon snood.

Finally, the event got kicked off two nights ago, the minute Yom Hazikaron was over. By nine in the evening, the main street of Nahariya was filled with families and their dogs. One side of the street was devoted to food, and the other side of the street to the sale of toys. The toys which were the most popular were a variety of giant inflatable tools such as hammers, mallets, clubs and axes, decorated with the Israeli flag. I have yet to understand these mysterious symbols and their connection to Israeli independence, but I will do my best to find out.

Other popular toys were bubble-blowing handguns that lit up and made loud noises, miniature M-16 automatic rifles complete with working laser sites and rotating bullet bandoliers, and giant mylar Smurf and Strawberry Shortcake balloons. As Elul and I were hanging around the town square, waiting for the band to strike up and the speeches to start, we observed two little kids--a brother and sister--dancing a kind of three-person polka with a giant inflatable Godzilla making up the third party.

Once the speeches were over, including one from Nahariya's colorful mayor Jacky Sabag, the fireworks began. I sat that one out, literally, a couple of blocks away, because the noise and the crowds were getting to me, but Elul reported that they were "pretty good and a lot of them." While I was waiting, sitting on the front steps of a dress store, I managed to tear the seat of my pants on a rough edge, and then get asked by two security guards "hakol beseder?", or "everything OK?" I managed, using Hebrish and sign language, to convince them I was just waiting for my husband, so they wished me a good evening and walked on.

When Elul returned, finally, he'd actually procured one such lighting-up, noise-making, bubble-blowing handgun. The next morning, we demonstrated its use to our kittens Pini and Dudu, as shown in the video clip below. (And as usual, if this video is not showing up on an emailed version of this post, please go directly to my blog at As anxious new parents of Israeli kittens, we feel it is necessary to train our "children" in all manners of preparedness. You just never know when your cats may be called upon to use a bubble-blowing handgun in the name of national security.

Shabbat Shalom, chaverim, and Happy Birthday to Israel!


  1. That's really interesting about your neighbour's tank outside! The house we just lived in before moving, a rental here in Ma'alot, had a locked room filled with the belongings of their son who was killed in battle back in '73...

  2. Thanks for your comment, Shem Tov. Yes, grief is a strange thing and there's no "right" way to go about it. Personally, I'm happy the man was given the freedom to display that tank in his yard. If it assists him in some way psychologically after the loss of his son, then it's good the neighbors didn't try (or weren't able, perhaps) to stop him.


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