Beginning Sunday night, most restaurants are closed for the evening, stores are closed, and Israeli T.V. and radio stations are only allowed to play approved content, which means only war stories, stories of victims, or somber music. The entire country enters mourning, remembers the pain and sorrow of years and days gone by.
Monday, I went to Har Herzl, Israel’s national military cemetery. I walked through the different sections, learning about the individuals who gave their life in pursuit of peace, in pursuit of this land. I saw the graves of those who died before my time, those who died too young, those who died in the wrong place at the wrong time. Families gathered around graves, spoke about their loved one, reminisced. Families reunited with the family of the person whose grave is next to theirs. Families have a pattern and spend the day with their loved ones, visiting, picnics, tears, laughter. I wandered by the new part of the cemetry, graves still fresh, some onle a few days old, some a few weeks. Graves of those who died while I was here, younger than me. At one grave there were men still in army uniforms, and some without, about 5 of them, about my age. It was clear that they had come here to be with the 6th memeber of their group. They sat there, playing cards, laughing, crying, remembering. A tribute to their friend, their counterpart. And my heart wept for those for whom this is more a reality than I will ever know. The loss of someone so young, or someone who had so much to share. How can we remember? How can we include them? Can the whole that they have left ever be filled?
We walked further into the cemetery and ended up at the section for those who gave their lives in the 1948 war, 59 years ago. As we approached, the Chazzan was chanting El Maleh Rachamim for them. We had stumbled upon the AzKarah ceremony for them. I stood there, tears in my eyes and a heavy heart. Here, 59 years ago, these people died to protect the land that I am standing on. These are the people who fought so that the Jewish homeland could be created. We stayed until they finished, marking the symbolism, the meaning, the wonder.
After a quick trip to the graves of Yitzhak and Leah Rabin, Golda Meir, Teddy Kollet and Herzl, we sneaked a peak at the area for the ceremony that night and headed home to gear up. At 7pm the country begins to liven up. Restaurants open, people start coming out, getting ready to celebrate. Mourning turns into celebration, everywhere you look there is an Israeli Flag, children laughing, running, spraying sheleg, happy to be alive. The music was loud, free and plentiful, Ben Yehuda packed more than I have seen it in years, everyone celebrates, everyone smiles, everyone knows how to treasure these moments. Eventually people dwindled to their own space to get ready for the massive BBQs of yesterday. I walked out of my apartment and was bombarded with the smell of BBQ, every park was filled with picnics, with families having fun, some even brought out their couches and TV.
I met up with my friends Matt and Jen and headed to City hall to see the celebrations there. We visited the Central Jerusalem Prison from the British Mandate period, saw street performers and took in the feeling of bliss that surrounded. I ended my celebration with a BBQ with other Schechter students and called it a night so I could prepare for school to begin again today!
I was here for Israel’s 50th, and now 9 years later, as a changed person, I celebrated again. I hope to be here for her 100th birthday, I hope and pray that the celebrations never end, that the joy never ceases, that the memories get sweeter…