This is something I wrote for the Bar Ilan newspaper, due to come out on Sunday. It’s a bit fluffier than the way I usually like to write, and I left out a whole segment I had wanted to put in, about how Natan Sharansky celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut in his KGB prison (he stuck his head in the toilet to communicate with the other Zionist political prisoners through the pipes, and told each other stories from the early days of the Yishuv.) that I think would have really added to the piece, but I had space restraints.
This is the last issue this year, and the editor gave me 500 words for an English column. Hopefully next year we’ll get a whole page, or a newspaper of our own. I’m not sure yet if i want to devote my energies to this, or that newspaper of my own that i spoke of earlier.
Without further ado:
“So, what are you doing for Yom Ha’atzmaut?”
It’s a question I’ve been asked more and more often the past few days, and find myself asking others the same. For Israelis, it seems to be a conversation point, but for Olim Chadashim like me, it seems to be more of a probe; a question of relevance masking the underlying true inquiry: How do you celebrate this thing?
Let me explain. Every immigrant has his or her unique and special path they took to get here. Whether it was an American coming to Israel for a year and deciding to stay, or somebody from the former Soviet Union escaping communism, or a child of yordim in Australia who decides that his place is the land that his parents abandoned, they all have one thing in common; they have little or no tradition in celebrating these early summer “Zionist Holidays” of Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom Ha’atzmaut, and Yom Yerushalayim. Sure, they might have somehow celebrated on their own, but not in ways that Israelis are used to. Lighting fireworks on the fourth of July or burning effigies in England on Guy Fawkes Day pales in comparison.
Americans march in the Israel Day Parade (Incidentally, not on Yom Ha’atzmaut) in New York, some people light candles on Yom HaShoah, but there is nothing akin to the unique Israeli experience of these holidays, in Israel. A siren is blown on Yom HaShoah, and the country freezes to a standstill. The country similarly stops a week later on Yom Hazikaron. Then, suddenly, the atmosphere changes -instantaneously, as the sun sets- from somber recollection to rejoiced celebration, as the day changes into Yom Ha’atzmaut and we celebrate our independence. Then, a few weeks later, we celebrate the redemption of Jerusalem, and its return to Jewish control for the first time in two millennia. It’s all a very new and fresh experience for some of us.
Imagine stepping off the plane for your first time in Israel, kissing the ground (though of course with the new terminal this is impossible) and then hearing the siren. You’ve never heard the siren before, you’ve never even heard of the siren before. Is it an air raid? Is it a war? Why is everyone stopping?
Or looking out your window in Jerusalem on a summer night and seeing throngs of Hesder boys, numbering in the thousands, in white shirts and blue jeans, dancing and marching all through the night until finally converging at the Western Wall for break-of-dawn morning prayers. Again, Yom Yerushalayim is not something most Jews of the Diaspora experience. I don’t think anyone from my high school in Baltimore ever thought about dancing their way to the Kotel, let alone knew what day Yom Yerushalayim was.
Try to see it all for the first time! Pretend you didn’t grow up with it, picture yourself celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut while truly understanding what life outside Israel is like, and what it lacks. I feel like Israelis miss out on the incredibleness of these days; sometimes, you need to be a real oleh chadash to appreciate Israel.