Yom Hashoah’s (Holocaust remembrance day) siren is something I look forward to: it heralds a portent of accord in a turbulent sea. I stand on Dizengoff street at 11 am as the nation-wide siren is sounded and watch a girl dismount her bicycle and stand next to it, a seated man get up off of the bench he’d been sitting on, drivers halt to a stop and get out of their vehicles, standing still next to their car doors. In the midst of chaos, insanity, balagan – the nation comes to a standstill and a sense of unity, togetherness, composure, sweeps the air. I take in the emotional gravity as my mind revisits an intensely emotional improvised scene set in the concentration camps from an acting class of the night before and brackish tears well up in my eyes.
The siren; and the sad songs on the radio… These are the days of sad quiet songs on the radio, the songs I love. The songs that everyone knows, that everyone sings along to. The songs that reflect the sadness and the achiness that we find ourselves embracing, relishing even; the songs that expose the slow lulling gloom that provides a welcome relief from the day-to-day motion and commotion. The songs that I look forward to savoring once again the following week, on Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance day for Israel’s fallen soldiers)…
Yom Hazikaron comes a week after Yom Hashoah, and on the heels of Yom Hazikaron (the very next day) rises Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Israel’s Independence Day). One sunny morning in the week between Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron, Sebastian exclaims proudly, as I drop him off, “Ima, look at our new gan!” I look around me and observe a yizkor (memorial) candle placed in the middle of the room and Israel flags adorning the four walls.
Yom Hazikaron gets two sirens. The second, at 8 pm, comes as we are gathered with thousands of Tel Avivians in Rabin Square to participate in the Yom Hazikaron “Song Ceremony”. The siren sounds as I stand there and watch both my children standing still – no itching, no questioning, no fidgeting. We’re talking Liliana! Standing still. No questions. No answers. I watch her, the child I dub “Israel” because she exhibits the noise, the chaos, the craziness, the chutzpah, that bold inner confidence.
She stands: Quietly. Respectfully. In unison with the motionless nation. What does she understand? Since when does she halt her activities and go with the flow? Is there no learning curve at the toddler/preschool age? Or is the weight of the collective so thick that it sticks to us, immobilizes us? The power of the unity, in these moments, it seems, is equal in its immensity to that of the chaos.
I watch with tears as the smiling faces of the nineteen, twenty-year old soldiers who are with us but are no longer grace the screen, as the bereaved faces of the parents tell their stories of loss, of breakdown, of resignation, and of resolve. And I listen with tears to the poems that these parents need to write in order to process their unfathomable pain, their immeasurable loss.
Poetry? In today’s world? Where is it still relevant? Here, in this small, hardened and vulnerable place, poetry is written, recited, read, and heard. There is something, I suppose, in poetry’s compact, pithy, and direct nature, in its open-endedness — that is well suited to the painful and difficult experiences that make up life in a nation under siege.
This was a late night for the kids. The usual draining mess of a bedtime ritual had been aborted. No bath, splashes, giggles, pajamas, running, chasing, teeth brushing, a book, another, another, a song, a hug, water, a kiss, another kiss, GOOD NIGHT. Still, because of the late hour, I could feel myself pulling towards the door in an anticipated hasty escape as I was tucking Sebastian in. Layla tov chamudi (good night sweetie), I whispered, turning to the door. And at that moment: “Ima, what is Yom Hazikaron?” I relinquished my efforts to get to the dishes, the computer, the tv, and sat down. It’s when we remember people, Lance offers. “Why do we remember people?” We remember people who died, who are no longer with us. “Why do we stand in order to remember them?” We stop what we’re doing and stand in order to honor them. “Who was that bad man who wanted to kill everyone?” Hitler or Bin Laden? “Why was he bad?” It’s like we sometimes have quarrels or arguments but we don’t make up, it’s always good to make up and reconcile, I rattled on, trying to turn a negative into a positive lesson, to find the teachable moment etcetera etcetera. Suddenly, Sebastian promptly and assuredly concluded: “I will not die. Even when I’ll be 100 years old, I won’t die.” I smiled a sad smile, said good night again, gave him another kiss, and left the room.
The transition from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha’atzmaut is stark. It moves from darkness to light: there is no gray. The following night was Yom Ha’atzma’ut and Sebastian went to sleep to the merry sounds of fireworks. Lance and I sang and danced wildly in the streets. With a few thousand of our fellow citizens.