May 6, 2014

Full To The Brim

Life here in Israel is full to the brim. Perhaps brimming over.

On Sunday night, Israelis gathered in city squares and town centers across the country to remember the fallen. They stood at attention Sunday night at 8 o’clock as the siren eerily blasted from north to south, plunging us into deep contemplation and sorrow. This night, we remember those who fell in the many wars that were fought in the last 66 years, as well as those who were killed from terrorist attacks.

Each year, the names of the fallen and their ages at death are read aloud in each community. Tragedy has hit every place in this country, from the smallest kibbutz to the larger cities. Ra’anana, which is a smallish town today, was a tiny village some forty years ago. Yet during the wars of 1967 and 1972, four, five and six boys were killed daily. The announcer read their ages slowly, “Eighteen. Nineteen.”

I stood there in silence and thought of the anguish, the deep sobs, the multiple funerals that the community suffered daily; a loss that tore, ripping deep holes in hearts and never went away.

Each Yom HaZikaron, relatives of those who lost loved ones are invited to place a wreath and to tell their stories. We heard from a widow, a man who lost his brother and a mother who lost her son. These people are all from Ra’anana; I may have seen them in the grocery line or in the library. They may seem to lead a routine life, yet their existence is never the same after such a tragic loss.

For a full night and day, the entire country remembers and weeps and dives headfirst into mourning. The stories of those who were killed are broadcast on TV in countless films that illustrate beautiful, hopeful, happy lives that are cut, gashed, blunted. The cameras took us into living rooms and classrooms. We met the victims’ school teachers, their best friends, their parents. They showed us chubby baby pictures, the bar mitzvah photos, videos of happy family trips and glowing report cards. And then, the parents take us into the soldiers’ bedrooms. Enshrined. Clothes in drawers, books on shelves, as if the solider is expected to walk in the door at any minute. Yet never will.

And as the sun goes down, the country transitions from despair to joy as we gear up for Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israel Independence Day. It may be hard to understand how weeping can turn to dancing, sobbing to laughter. But it works because it represents the tension between tragedy and joy, between suffering and redemption. Just last week, we mourned the loss of six million Jews during Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day. And eight days later, we mourn those who perished in wars and terror.

Yet this must always turn to celebration because this country mourns then looks brightly to the future. We feel deep sorrow and we rebuild. Israel was built form the ashes of the Holocaust and we forge bright futures despite our continued losses. This is our beauty and our energy and our spark.

During Yom Ha’Atzmaut last night, as I strolled down Ra’anana’s main street, I passed open-air concerts, people dancing in circles and children atop soldiers’ shoulders grinning, waving flags.

The joy and pride and love people have for this country is palpable. And strong. I was mesmerized watching women dance the hora; as their feet thumped the ground in one united, determined step, I felt as if they were planting joy, optimism and a bright future that brims over. 

Nefesh b'Nefesh created this birthday video to celebrate Israel's 66th.

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