Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut

May 1, 2020 in Guest Post, Rabbi Fabián Werbin

This is the fifth week of the month and allows for another outside blog. This week the blog is written by Tal Greenberg.

Tal Greenberg has been Beth El’s shlicha since August 2018. Following the stay-at-home order and closing of schools due to the coronavirus pandemic, she returned to Israel.

I arrived in Israel six weeks ago. For the first two weeks, I was in complete quarantine, not going out at all, not even throwing the trash away. Two weeks later, feeling well and not infected with the coronavirus, I was finally able to go home and hug my family, after eight months of being apart. Shortly thereafter, I spent the first night of Passover with my immediate family, just six of us, in front of the computer screen, with 100 more family members from five different countries, together remotely.

The next holiday was Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers and other individuals who have lost their lives in the fight for the establishment, defense, and survival of the State of Israel, followed the next day by Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. These are the most significant days in Israel. I wish I was able to show, teach, and pass the feeling and atmosphere of these days to all of you in Maryland as I planned, but unfortunately, this year had different plans for us.

Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut were very different this year in Israel. For Yom Hazikaron, my sister, Amit, and I organized a project in our town, to respect and honor the families of the fallen soldiers. We knew that this year would be harder for them to cope with the pain when they were alone and unable to visit the graves, or be around their families. We asked the mayor for a list of all families who have lost loved ones during their IDF service. We also asked for 30 volunteers. Each volunteer wore a special shirt for the project and had an Israeli flag. “Forever together” was written on the shirts. . Other years, on the morning of Memorial Day, there is a two minute siren in Israel heard across the country. This year, each group of two volunteers stood outside the home of a bereaved family.

I chose to stand in front of the house of my good friend, Lior. Lior lost her sister, Rotem, 17 years ago. Rotem was a soldier and was murdered in an attack on a bus stop during the intifada. Since then, every year I embrace Lior and feel her pain. I also knew Rotem, and I miss her very much.

While my sister and I were standing in front of their house, her family came out to stand in front with us. No words can explain how exciting the situation was. We were standing about 10 meters from each other, with our faces looking at the ground. They cried with excitement and sadness and did not stop thanking us for the moving gesture. During Yom Hazikaron, stories of the IDF fallen soldiers were broadcast on all television channels in Israel. There were only memorial songs on the radio. The atmosphere was sad, but also very unifying.

I made sure to talk to all the JDS graduates who enlisted in the army this year.  Their opportunity to experience Yom Hazikaron in Israel, in uniform, greatly enhances the experience and sensations.

Then, in a sharp transition, comes Independence Day. There are nonstop discussions in Israel on the issue of these two holidays so close together. Many bereaved families feel that they don’t have enough time to be able to put a smile on their faces after only 24 hours, and be able to celebrate inside and out. Usually, they don’t go out dancing, singing and enjoy the fireworks of Yom Ha’atzmaut. This year was the first time in Israel’s history that almost everyone remained at home on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

The next morning, I woke up to loud songs and car beeps that I heard from the window. My mom and I went outside and saw many cars decorated with Israeli flags. Outside the cars, people were giving out popsicles to everyone. What a good feeling it is, to know that someone is thinking of you, and wants to make you happy on a holiday, even when circumstances don’t allow us to celebrate the way we normally do.

Next – barbeque, a big Israeli tradition on Yom Ha’atzmaut! Thousands of people enjoy steaks and other delicious foods. We celebrated, ate, sang, and enjoyed being together. This “togetherness” was a little different this year. Everyone was with their small group of family and friends around them, but together at heart, with the whole country. Later in the day, there were live shows on television. All Israeli artists have come to delight the citizens sitting at home waiting to rejoice together.

With all the divided political opinions people from around the world have about Israel, most will agree that Israel is a special country. I feel a great privilege to call it my home.

I wish we will all be able to go back to routine soon, and that you will soon have the opportunity to come visit me here!