Sunday, May 4, 2014

Days I Hate and Days I Love

Tuesday is probably the day I love most on the Israeli calendar - it is Yom Ha'atzmaut - Independence Day. We'll hopefully go see the fly-over in Jerusalem - where Israel's air force will fly across Israel - from north to south and east to west in all its glory. I'm going to try to videotape it. Then we'll get together here and have a barbecue. We'll go see the fireworks at night...I LOVE fireworks...and as I do every year, as they explode in the sky, I'll whisper to Israel - happy birthday and thank you, God, for giving us this land.

And tonight and tomorrow are probably the times I hate the most. They begin with a heart-wrenching siren that wails into your heart. It goes on and on...though it really is only a minute tonight and two tomorrow. You stand at absolute attention wherever you are. The worst was the time I was in the store and though I knew it was coming, I tried to act normally...I had a tomato in my hand at the moment the siren went off...I held it for a second, not knowing what to do and then I put it back with the others and stood for the remaining time.

Each year, I go to the ceremony at night and I listen to the stories, the numbers of how many more died this year. I experienced my first Memorial Day as a soldier's mother just weeks after Elie had entered the army. I knew that he was fine - on a training base far from all our borders. But as the day was coming closer, I knew it would break me if I let it.

Israel's Memorial Day is sadly a bit unique in the world in that it is truly a day of mourning. There are no barbecues, no sales, no discounts, no playing on the beach. It is somber, it is heartbreaking, it is agonizing. Cafes, restaurants, movie theaters, etc. are all closed - by law and by desire, there are no places of entertainment open.

Even children's stations run sad stories - interviews with children who have lost siblings or parents feature highly. One station has the simplest of broadcasts - a slow roll of the names of each soldier, each terrorist victim, lost - from the first to the last, most recent death. You watch the names scroll across the screen...each a family devastated and likely still in mourning.

The first year, as a soldier's mother, I refused to go to the ceremony in our city. It was more than I could bear, to hear the stories of those we had lost in this town, to see parents that I know explain or speak of their sons.

April, 2007
I promised myself that I wouldn't think today, knowing that this Memorial Day, my first as a mother of an Israeli soldier, would be that much more difficult.

I would light a candle in memory of Israel's fallen soldiers, as I do each year, but I would not allow myself to imagine, to think for even a moment. There are ways to mourn, ways to feel sympathy for others without taking the pain in too deeply. That's what I tell myself each year, and then I watch the names and see the faces and listen to the stories of those we have lost.

Israel's Memorial Day commemoration begins with the wailing air raid siren. Once again, cars come to a stop wherever they are. Israelis are notoriously late - but not for this ceremony. At exactly 8:00 p.m., the siren wails. It is the signal for a nation to begin, or perhaps to acknowledge, their mourning and their gratitude. For the next 24 hours, we will hear only about those we have lost. The bravery, the courage, the dedication, the sacrifice.

Memorial Day (2008) - Who Elie Stands Beside

Last year, I read the story of what the paratroopers division does to remember their own. The article in the newspaper spoke of how beside the grave of each fallen paratrooper, a soldier in the current paratroopers division stands. The families come and see that their sons have not been forgotten. I couldn't imagine what goes through the head of that young man, whose job it is to simply stand there, in honor and in mourning. I can't imagine what the family thinks, seeing this young man stand so proud and straight, beside the grave of their son.
Last year, when I read that article, I didn't know that the artillery division does the same. I didn't know that my son would be asked to go and stand beside the grave of a fallen artillery soldier. I don't know what will go through Elie's mind as he stands beside that grave. How old will that boy be, that young man who died protecting our country.
Finally, two years after Elie entered the army, I felt strong enough to go to the ceremony. It was so much easier, in the end, because Elie came with me.

The Ostrich and the Ceremony (2009)

I don't want to project, to imagine, to think. For the last two years, I have told myself that I didn't have to be cruel to myself; that I was entitled to skip these ceremonies; that the mothers would understand. Maybe they too skipped the ceremonies before their sons were killed fighting for this land.

This is the first time I almost feel strong enough to risk going, dare to listen as the stories are told. I'll light the memorial candle, as I do each year. I'll stand and listen to the siren, as I do each year. I'll think, or maybe I won't. Maybe I'll just stand there and listen to the siren and pray.
And finally, I'll explain that the day I hate the most, and the day I love the most, are found right next to each other on the calendar. And each year, though it seems totally impossible, we in Israel experience, The Switch...

The Switch - Israel Style
Before we can celebrate our Independence Day, we honor those who made it possible, by commemorating our Memorial Day. Soon, all over the land, we will go to parties, barbecues, and fireworks. I am on the flat of the roller coaster of life as a soldier's mother - Yaakov, Elie, Chaim and Shmulik and Haim - are all out of the army. One nephew is out - one remains in the army. Elie did Reserve duty a week ago - a few days with other commanders to give him a heads up on where they are and what's likely to come at them in the next few months. Most of the unit wasn't even called in...
For the most part, my sons are home while other sons and daughters guard our borders, our seas, our skies. Davidi has begun the process but it is the very early stages and it will be more than a year - perhaps even two or three before he enters the army. He has chosen something dangerous but I can't worry now - perhaps he will change his mind; perhaps the army has other plans.

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