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Remembrance and Independence
by Judy Lash Balint
May 10, 2001

Remembrance and Independence:
by Judy Lash Balint

Statistics announced today: 19,312 soldiers have fallen since the founding of the state. It is now 200 days since the kidnapping of our latest soldiers missing in action. Israel's population now stands at 6,400,000.

What follows is from last year's diary. As we stand ready to commence this year's Remembrance Day, it's clear that while much has changed in past months--many aspects of Israeli remembrance and independence remain constant.
A few disparate impressions of Yom Hazikaron (Day of remembrance for the fallen soldiers and victims of terror) and the transition into Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day).

Throughout the solemn Remembrance day, marked by the wail of sirens at and again at 11 a.m., the whole country seems to slow down, as befits a nation in mourning for its fallen. People walk more slowly, pay closer attention to one another, become more reflective. With all places of entertainment closed, radio stations broadcast solemn and soulful music and TV stations air lengthy documentaries on the history of the Lebanon conflict and profiles of many of the fallen soldiers, along with critiques of the battles by teary eyed comrades.

Parents of those who fell in Israel's earlier wars are now elderly and frail. One heartwrenching TV segment showed the Weinbergs--aging Holocaust survivors whose only son, Yigal, a handsome parachutist, was killed in the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Mr. Weinberg displayed files full of letters he'd written to various commissions of inquiry to determine the details of his son's death.

Schools hold special memorial ceremonies in the morning with all students required to wear white shirts and blue pants or skirts before being dismissed for the rest of the day. On the bus around midday I sat behind a group of high school boys. They were discussing the morning's events and their prospects of serving in combat units now that the IDF is about to pull out of Lebanon. Strange to think that these lads with their deep voices and baby faces would soon be called upon to defend us.

Quite by chance I found out yesterday that an aquaintance, a woman born in England who made aliya in the 1960s, had lost a son in the army 15 years ago. She casually dropped the fact as we were arranging a meeting for today. She couldn't make it, she said quite matter of factly, as she had to fulfill her annual duty of lecturing at a girls seminary about her experiences as a bereaved mother .
Back in the center of town, I pass a new memorial, dedicated today to the memory of Maayan, a young girl killed in the Nahlat Shiva attack of 1994. The simple stone was being tended by a few of her friends. Young women who'd collected the funds, designed the stone and arrived with flowers on this memorial day, the first to commemorate the victims of terror as well as the war dead.

A wreath from the Jerusalem municipality lies on the spot on Jaffa Road marking the dreadful #18 bus bombing of 1996.

In the press there are calls by some of the post-Zionists for new forms of observance of both Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, but the traditional official commemorative ceremonies at the kotel and Mt. Herzl are evocative and well attended.

Towards the close of the day, the heavy mood slowly begins to lift as preparations for the festive 52nd Independence Day get underway. I arrive at my shul five minutes before the Yom Haatzmaut service is due to start. The courtyard is completely packed, there's no way to even get close to the door to listen, let alone get inside, so I make a quick detour to the closest shul, a more conventional, Ashkenazic synagogue, where I slip into one of the last empty seats in the back row.

Most people are dressed in blue and white and the mood is still serious from the day, but joyful too. The chazan belts out a lusty Hallel, and after a blast of the shofar we sing, "Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem," followed by a prayer of gratitude for living in the period of the beginning of the redemption. The brief service winds up with the singing of Shir Hamaalot to the tune of Hatikva.

As the congregation pours down the steps into the street, it's as if a cork has been released from a bottle--all the pent up feelings from the difficult day of remembrance give way to celebration of our continued existence in this land of ours.

Teenagers skip down the street wearing huge Israeli flags Batman-style, singing "Am Yisrael Chai;" in the traffic jam that quickly forms as people go out to parties, you can't help but notice that almost every car has at least one Israeli flag on a plastic post fluttering out of the window--some super-nationalists sport four!

Just an hour after dark, stages are activated all over the city featuring various music and entertainment. Streets downtown are closed off for the night, and thousands flock to the parks to relax and enjoy. Their way is challenged by the pre-teens whose idea of fun is spraying every passer-by with white sticky spray. Cars, as well as people are covered with the gunk, but the main objective is to arrive at a good viewing point for the spectacular fireworks that shoot off the roof of the Sheraton Plaza Hotel at 10:30pm.

Now the entire city is thumping with music and the boom of fireworks. After tomorrow's traditional barbecue which take place in every available park and beach, there's just Lag B'Omer and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) to get through before we settle down to a nice hot summer of "normal" days.