I arrived at the Kotel with my friends about 30 minutes before the ceremony began. We walked by restaurants closing, and people preparing. It is illegal for businesses to be open tonight as it was on Yom HaShoah. The city mellows out. The cars that are usually rushing down my street seem to begin to vanish and peacefulness sets in.
The Kotel plaza, usually filled with black hats and jackets is now fileld with army uniforms, and plain clothed people. The place that has seen so much destruction and bloodshed over the centuries is now clean, calm. The place that has been the cause for so much bloodshed, so many lives lost is now silent. While I usually dislike my experiences at the Kotel, I am at peace tonight. THis is not a religious sight for me today, this is a place of destruction and rebirth, a sign of a strong Jewish State (but not a place of a strong religious state.) . The symbol is there to draw out emotion, not make a statement about who owns the rights ot the space, the rothodox or the secular.
8pm, silence as the siren blasts. The tekiah blasts into my ears, to my heart and soul. We stand there together, united, remembering, praying, hoping. So many stand there, men and women together. The speeches begin, the flame is lit by a woman whose husband was killed in service. We remember, we remember the names, we remember the feelings, we remember the hope. I stand there united with my friends and those unknown to me. We listen intently, trying to understand the speeches, trying to take it in. I do not know what it is like to be in the army, but I know what it is like to loose a loved one. Perhaps not in an act of violence, but I know. I feel the pain in my heart, in the very depths of my being. I love, I hurt, I cry. Tears again. The IDF chazzan chants the El Maleh Rachamim, for all those who died in the service, all those in reserves who lost their lives protecting the country, those lost within and outside the borders of Israel, those old and young, those lost lives to terrorism here and there. He chanted to the memory of the sons and daughters who never said goodbye to their loved ones one last time, to the wife who’s husband no longer wakes up next to her, to the child whose parent will not watch them grown and learn. The memories, the sounds wrap themselves around me, and I am lost in another moment.
We recite the mourners kaddish together, one people, supporting one another. At one point, during the Hatikvah, the Hope, one of the Israeli girls sitting in front of my turns and my eyes meet hers. And i see a twinge of sadness, of fear, of pride. This girl knows, she will one day be that soldier, she will one day in 9 years or so be protecting her country, the country I love. She knows, and she looks at me with hope and fear. And my heart goes out to her, her friends, her family. And this is the reality I live in. And I don’t know what to feel, how to react. I want to give her a hug, tell her it will be o.k., but I can’t say that, I can’t know. But, perhaps by me being here, by me supporting the country, but taking a bus, by going to cafes, but living my life, she will see that others support her, that others care, that Jews are united.
And now, I watch the names on TV of those souls I never met. Tomorrow my ears and soul will once again be pierced by the siren. One last blast, one last reminder, one last remembrance initiated by the state. Time will stand still for 2 minutes. An experience I will not have anywhere but here. Tomorrow, I will visit Har Herzl and the graves of those i never knew or had the chance to know. And as the day moves to evening, the bbqs begin, the country makes a gradual, smooth and peaceful switch to celebrate the birth of a Jewish State. Israel’s independence day. And we move from death to life, from fear to h ope, and this is HaTIkvah, this is the hope that holds us together, that sustains us, that makes Israel a place like none other. This is the land that I will miss so much when I have to leave, this is the land I am ambivalent about at times, but love in the depths of my heart! I dont’ know exactly what tomorrow will bring, but I am hopeful for a new beginning, for a year from now to have a shorter list of new names…