Monday, April 26, 2010

Happy Birthday Israel!

Posted by Colleen


IMG_1237 I will rejoice because of the Lord;
I will be happy because of the God who delivers me!
The sovereign Lord is my source of strength.
Habakkuk 3:18-19

Holocaust Day

After Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Day) which was April 12th, a friend e-mailed and asked if the Israelis “truly remember.” From what I can tell, the level of remorse over the Holocaust is very fresh to the adult generation and the children of those that still tell the stories. But the loss doesn’t stop with Hitler’s Holocaust. We know as Americans that freedom comes with a great cost and the Israelis have paid a great price for theirs. In Israel, everyone knows someone that has been killed in the Holocaust, the wars for independence or a terrorist attack.

Remembrance Day

On April 25th, Israel turned 62. However, the idea for the Jewish people to have independence began long before. One of the key forefathers was a visionary named Theodore Herzl (1860-1904). In 1896, in Der Judenstaat he wrote, "The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution. This is the case, and will inevitably be so, everywhere, even in highly civilized countries—see, for instance, France—so long as the Jewish question is not solved on the political level. The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America."

Theodore Herzl (1860-1904), visionary of the state of Israel


In other words, the long tried attempts to integrate into society had routinely failed and it was becoming ever more evident that the only way for the Jewish people to survive was by forming an independent state.

While Herzl was writing about an independent Israel, a man named Eliazer Ben Yehuda had already begun reviving the Hebrew language as a modern spoken language in Palestine. It soon replaced several Jewish dialects such as the Judeo-Spanish language (also called Judezmo or Ladino), Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, and Bukharian language as well as local languages spoken in the Jewish diaspora such as Russian, Persian, and Arabic.

There is so much that happened in the following years that led up to independence.  In 1918 Britain, who ruled the land, issued the Balfour Declaration promising to establish an independent state in Palestine.  The United Nations began the process, but for various reasons Britain later backed out. Sadly, the atrocities of the Holocaust that occurred during World War II  acted as the needed catalyst to keep the ball rolling.  Finally, 62 years ago, in 1948, having a common language, a need for an Israeli State and a last minute blessing of the UN, David Ben-Gurion announced their independence (knowing full well that the minute they did so, the Arab states surrounding her would declare war).


Modern Celebrations

Last Saturday night on April 17th there was a ceremony at the Western Wall to remember those lost in wars and terrorist attacks since 1948. This time of remembrance is called Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day) which ran from sunset on Saturday to sunset on Sunday. The ceremony began after the sirens sounded for 1 minute. We were going through security to where thousands of people were already gathered. It is truly amazing the reverence given to this time of silence. I can't say I have ever been in a crowd of so many when it fell completely silent and still. The crowd was overwhelming, and our neighbor, President Shimon Peres opened the ceremony.

“Peres sent a message of peace: ‘We don't seek war. We are a peace-seeking state, but we know, and will continue to know, how to care for ourselves. We are a democratic state, replete with rifts and divisions, arguments and internal disputes – but we are also a nation that knows how to unite and rise up in the hour of need, to defend our lives and defeat those who lie in ambush.’”

I held Lillian on my shoulders so she could see but you can imagine, at only 5', there wasn't much I was going to get to see anyway. Eric and Celine were on the other side of the plaza from Tally, Lillian and I. The ceremony was in Hebrew so I didn't understand what they were saying but it was very somber. At the end of the ceremony, a song was sung. If only I could have understood what they were singing, but even so, I was awed. As the song ended the whole crowd began singing the Hatikva anthem-the National Anthem of Israel- which closed the event… So, I couldn’t understand or see much but was impressed. How often can you say that? You can hear the 2 songs here:

They really are beautiful as you watch the camera scan the crowd.

President Shimon Peres (archives) Photo: Gil Yohanan
Siren marking Remembrance Day (archives) Photo: Gil Yohanan
The ceremony at the Wall. "We don't seek war." (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Memorial Day--Shimon Peres speaking
Eric’s taking a picture of someone else taking a picture of Shimon Peres.


The following morning, Sunday, there was another siren at 11:00am for 2 minutes. We were on Dereck Gaza which is where the ice cream shop with the swings is located. As the sirens began, all traffic stopped, people got out of their cars and stood, people on the street stopped and we watched with great interest. It was amazing to see everyone just come to a standstill. Some even put their head down, as though praying or thinking of that person or persons they have lost. Once the sirens ended, life continued. The collective willingness to observe this 2 minutes is overwhelming to me. They do it on Holocaust Day and twice on Yom Hazikaron.

Around 4:00pm we grabbed a taxi for Mt. Herzl, the military cemetery, named after Theodore Herzl, who I spoke of above.

It was a beautiful place but very sad. Families were everywhere sitting around graves, some remembering, some reading, some crying, some enjoying a picnic.

Mt. Herzl cemetery The girls around the grave sights at Mt. Herzl. Each grave has a patch of grass growing on top. People show their respects by leaving flowers and stones.
IMG_1240 IDF soldiers guard the eternal flame. This same flame was at the Western Wall and the ceremony for Independence Day.
It really is lit, I promise we didn’t snuff out the eternal flame!

When we left the cemetery we headed home to see the celebration of Independence Day on TV. (Actually, we tried to get into the live ceremony, but we didn’t know it was by invitation only.  We tried to tell them we live next to the President, but that didn’t impress anyone. Eric was so bummed!  Oh, well! It was probably a better view on TV anyhow). There were soldiers that marched in formation, dancing, singing, lighting of 12 large torches for the 12 tribes of Israel but above all, patriotism. 

The whole day had been somber and mournful. Greetings were not the usual, “Shalom.” As a matter of fact, I had one lady say to me, “Have a happy tomorrow” which, of course, was Yom Ha'Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day). As you probably already know, every holiday begins at sunset the day before.

The celebrating began that night, of course, with fire works all through the night—much like our Independence Day. But we were getting to bed because while the Israelis would be celebrating the next day, we would miss out, instead heading to Jordan for two days, starting at 5:30 the next morning. Oy Vey

OK, come on,  tell me, have you ever seen this where you live? Yes, that’s actually camels in the back of a pickup driving down the famous International Desert Highway through Jordan!  Our-adventure-in-Jordan blog to come…


Congratulations Israel! Here’s to your next 62 years! La’Chaim!



Nanny said...

Thank you, Colleen. I have never understood why the Palestinians and the Israelis were always fighting over the same piece of land. Your explanation was good and your description of such a strong emotional day for the Jewish people was very emotional. After this, I think the Jewish people will always hold a special place in the hearts of your family.

Love, Mom

midspoint said...

As always, I am entranced by the stories, the pictures and your involvement! My heart yearns to be there...Someday, in Jerusalem!! :)