I’ve written before about the powerful and emotional 48 hours in Israel from the start of Memorial Day until the end of Independence Day. This year I was even luckier to experience the days, and the transition, in the army. For Memorial Day I attended two ceremonies, one on our Foreign Relations base near Tel Aviv and one on my base. During both ceremonies it was very meaningful for me to be standing in my uniform while listening to the prayers or stories of past wars or fallen heroes. There are few things more powerful than the one minute long sirens that sound at sundown when Memorial Day begins and at 10am the next morning. The whole country stops to remember and reflect no matter where they are; driving on the highway, on a bus, at work, eating, or anywhere else, in unison everyone stops and stands for a moment of silence while the sound of the siren is heard throughout every part of the country.
Memorial Day in Israel is much more…close, than in the US, at least for me. More than a few of the guys in my high school graduated and went on to armed services in the US military of some sort, a neighbor, friends of my sister, the number of people I know is not few, including my grandfather who spent his entire career in the US Navy, but I was, and am not close enough with any of these people to understand their experience and to feel the impact, unfortunately. In Israel military service is mandatory, and therefore many people have been involved in (too) many wars, which have been fought over the land here, even if you only count starting at the Independence War in 1948. To say that everyone had a story, a family member, a friend, or a friend of the family that has fallen in battle or been affected by terror attacks is unfortunately not an understatement. Knowing this, you can only imagine the type of emotions that arise on Israeli Memorial Day.
As I mentioned, Memorial Day begins at sundown and ends at sundown the next day, leading directly into Independence Day. 64 years and counting! Israel had come so incredibly far in 64 years, but one cannot ignore how far the country still has to go. There is room for improvement in many aspects of life here including but not limited to bureaucracy, the education system, the religious vs democratic conundrum, and extremely low job salaries. One cannot forget all of the achievement though; the second best military in the world, including an incredible air force, the highest number of start-ups per capita world-wide, world renowned inventions in agriculture and high-tech, as well as many more. And have you seen the size of this place on a map? You might have missed it, it’s about the size of New Jersey, a little narrower and longer, population something around 7 million. What a country to be proud of!
I chose to spend this Independence Day in the army, even though I could have gone home for the celebrations. It was more meaningful to me this year to skip the crazy partying and celebrate with my friends and commanders on base. We had an amazing barbeque, played games, and took a time out to reflect on what being Israeli and/or Zionistic means to us. I enjoyed that this time the focus wasn’t on what being Jewish means to us but instead Israeli, remembering that not all Israeli’s are Jewish, and appreciating that.