For weeks now, much to the consternation of our cats, we've had Israeli flags hanging off our balcony-- as do most Israelis. Right now, the sun is setting (in a perfect blue sky) on Yom haZikaron, Memorial Day, and we are moving in to Yom HaAtzmaut-- Independence Day!
In the US, "Memorial Day" meant little to me other than the start of the school year, a day off school, and maybe a picnic. I honestly never thought about what I was memorializing. I'm sure that Memorial Day has specific meaning for many people in the US, but to me it didn't. (UPDATE-- ProphetJoe reminded me that I'm thinking of Labor Day, not Memorial Day, which I guess proves my point: to me Labor Day and Memorial Day had about equivalent meaning.)
For most Israelis, though, Yom HaZikaron is the most solemn day on the Jewish calender. Tisha B'Av is easy to miss in a secular neighborhood; Yom Kippur is actually great fun for children who come out in droves to ride bikes in the car-free streets. (Seriously-- there are bike sales before Yom Kippur because of this.)
But Yom HaZikaron, for most Israelis, is "kashe," hard. Israelis know who they are memorializing. Their sons, daughters, cousins, friends, aunts, parents. Almost every Israeli knows somebody who died as a soldier or as a civilian victim of terror. So today, in private or public, Israelis mourn.
We hear two two-minute sirens on Yom HaZikaron: one last night at 8 PM and one this morning at 11. The one at 11 took me by surprise; I had to go grocery shopping, and I wasn't sure what time the siren would sound. So I was at the checkout when the siren sounded, and even though we could barely hear it inside the supermarket (a pity), immediately the checkout ladies froze, and everyone in the packed grocery store quickly hushed and stopped, standing, hands at their sides. Outside, shoppers waited half way to their cars with bags of groceries. When the siren was over, nobody spoke about it or even really acknowledged it, because the most powerful thing about the siren is that it is private. It is a shared public experience that is intensely personal. Nobody calls for a "moment of silence"-- we simply share one. The whole nation. For the same two minutes.
On Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), on the other hand, EVERYONE will be barbequing. Tonight we're about to go hear a free concert by several major Israeli singers including Sarit Hadad, Beit haBubot, and haDag Nachash. Every town and city draws singers to perform tonight after the fireworks, the candle-lighting ceremonies (in which kids light candles and anounce "letiferet medinat Yisrael"-- to the glory of the Israeli nation), the singing groups, whatever else our "iryah" puts in this year's ceremony. 61 years! We're not doing too badly for a baby-boomer nation.
The sun has set! Happy Independence Day!! In honor of Independence Day, I'm curious-- what is your favorite Israeli food or Israeli singer?