Commemorate, Liberate, Celebrate

Live out the 60 seconds between the saddest and the happiest day in Israel.

By Monica Haim

If You Happen to be an Aimless tourist in Tel Aviv who doesn’t know the first thing about Israel’s history, and you by chance stumble upon this historical enigma of a city during the critical 60 seconds between two very particular days, brace yourself. You will quite likely experience every single emotion possible on the full spectrum of human feelings—from deep, mournful sorrow and lament to total joy and unstoppable jubilation. The two days are Yom Ha-zikaron, the Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, and Yom Ha-aztmaut, the country’s Independence Day. These two consecutive days are replete with everything the country stands for: an unending sense of remembrance, a fiery and passionate hope, and the prospect of eternal freedom as a nation.

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Soldiers celebrate the declaration of the state of Israel.

In a country full of paradoxes, where old and new can coexist on every street corner and spirituality seems to radiate from the hot desert sun, it is no wonder that one can experience such a profound reversal of sentiment in such a short period of time—and really feel it. This is a place where every father, son, brother, grand-son and nephew have likely fought (or worse, perished) in one of the country’s atrocious wars, but also a place where the most common word for a day-to-day greeting from one man to the next happens to be “shalom”—literally, “peace.”

Daylight on a city street.
Daylight on a city street.

Everyone—from Israel’s top leadership and military personnel, who attend a national memorial service at the Western Wall, to the masses of citizens who devoutly stop in their tracks to honor this imperative, pride affirming day—knows that Yom Ha-zikaron is the critical and communal moment intended to acknowledge the pain that came with the creation of the country. The day opens at 8 pm of the preceding night with a siren that pierces through the entire country like a great wail emanating from the deepest place of sadness. The great siren blasts through the country for one minute, during which Israelis stop everything, including driving, and stand in utter stillness and silence. This way, between solemnity, intention, prayers and tears, the fallen soldiers and victims of terror are brought to light through a collective and conscious remembrance. A two minute siren is again heard on the following morning, at 11 am, which marks the opening of the official memorial ceremonies and private remembrance gathering, held at each cemetery where soldiers are buried. For the next 12 hours the flag of Israel at The Western Wall is lowered to half-staff, a symbolic bowing of the head in the face of such deep and lasting tragedy.

Music and frivolity prevail as the people pay tribute.
Music and frivolity prevail as the people pay tribute.

So how does a country switch its mindset from this dark place of seeming hopelessness to its complete opposite, euphoria? Well, it just does. With a glass-half-fill attitude and a relentless desire to fight for the justice of its existence, the country shifts emotional gears and begins to celebrate the declaration of the state of Israel by David Ben Gurion on May 14, 1948 (5 Iyar, 5708 in the Jewish calendar). At around 7 pm, after 12 long hours of looking its lamentable history straight in the face, the entire country rises up, takes a big group inhale of newfound strength and releases its pain through a full-throttle, carnival-esque, streets-torooftops, countrywide party that goes on for yet another 12 hours with zero regard for rules, volume or inhibitions. At the ceremony on Mount Herzl, a speech is made by an Israeli parliament member, along with a dramatic march of soldiers carrying the flag of Israel and creating elaborate formations of Jewish motifs, such as the Menorah and the Star of David. In a ceremonious display of ritual and respect, 12 torches are lit to symbolize each of the Tribes of Israel. At last, when the flag onMount Herzl is raised back to full-staff, so, too, does the mojo of the whole country ascend, turning the place—if only for those 12 hours—into a total bubble of bliss and love. Cafés and bars blare their loudest and happiest music, while drunken patrons crowded in their terraces rejoice in the festive air of celebration that permeates the streets. Libations pour continuously until the wee hours of themorning, while friends and family members hop from barbecues to house parties, everyone sharing in the momentum of positivity, and connecting with the very people who know exactly how they feel as a people.

The late Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who the first Chief Rabbi of the IDF, and the manwho set the date of YomHa-zikaron, has explained this abrupt transition between the two days. He said, “We view the warriors who fall in battle as those who sprout forth life. The life of a nation grew out of this blood…. This daymust bemore thanmourning.Wemust remember,wemust grieve, but it must [also] be a day of majesty and vision.” The emotional shift from deep sorrow to total joy is thenmeant to remind the people of the sacrificemade by the soldiers who battled for the country’s right to exist. This year, Israel celebrates and commemorates 62 years of blood, sweat, tears, redemption, renown, progress, passion and, of course, pain. But it is widely believed that without dark, there is no light; and without struggle there is no achievement. And life in Israel—especially during the 60 seconds between these two pivotal days that essentially define its daily conundrum—is a testament to this innate dualistic quality of the beautiful and cruel world that we must call home.