Advisory: I wrote this about a week and a half ago around Yom Ha’Shoah/Yom Ha’Zikaron/Yom Ha’Atamaut.  Enjoy.  I call this, “Independence from What?”

Degel Yisrael

Yom Ha’Zikaron outside of the old city of Jerusalem

Today may seem like any ordinary day, but I woke up today with a sense of meaning.  Today would have been my late grandfather Simon’s 89th birthday.  It’s a great reason to celebrate his birthday today being it cinco de mayo and a beautiful spring day.  But to me at least, I feel like there is more than what lies on the surface of the true essence of celebrating life and being grateful of each and everyday.  Today not only marks my grandfather’s birthday, but also signifies his liberation from a concentration camp in southern Germany; I don’t know if anyone could ask for a better gift than life…… 

Today also happens to be the transition of the ending of Yom Ha’Zikaron in Israel (Memorial for fallen soldiers and victims of terror).  I know that I can’t separate my heart from others who are mourning the losses of loved ones while I am in the states.  I can’t explain how deeply rooted I feel to this nation more so that any other day to reflect loved ones who could not be here with us physically because they were taken away from us too early.  But, their presence was never forgotten.

Although there are many hardships in life, it’s a time to rejoice.  Now in Israel, people are leaving from the cemeteries and the memorial services to the streets, to rejoice that they are defiant against all the odds in the world that they are here and alive and that they are able to thrive.  I know that their spirit has traveled across the Mediterranean and Atlantic to my heart.  66 years of “I will have a place to call home” and “we are here to live”.  Being in Jerusalem is special on Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Independence Day) because it just doesn’t signify that we are able to rebuild our homes in a place of our heritage, but because there is something so special when all walks of life come out from their corners of Jerusalem to celebrate and unify over the ability to live and thrive.

I have this disease. Inside of me exist this passion for this little country, where it seems to be a mirage in the vast desert of chaos and of unpredictability.  All I can sat is that you can take the boy out of Israel, but you can’t take the Israel out of the boy.

It was this summer when I was sitting at my grandfather’s shiva that I learned so much about him.  Whether it was from family, friends, or strangers.  I knew that he came from a small village on the German-Polish border, and he spoke saying “Vat?” “instead of “What?”, and I know that I would never know the hardships and horrors that no one should ever experience, especially at the age of 14.  But that’s life, and we can’t live in the past.  All we can do is remember, reflect, learn, and live.  That’s at least what I learned from him.  He really did live.  I heard some pretty wild stories about him smuggling tobacco into Germany from Austria, and he even had a motorcycle.  All of a sudden this man, my grandfather, came to life through stories.  I never thought that I would understand or get to know on a deep level this man I called “pops”.  When I learned that him, his brothers that survived, and my grandma, who was engaged to his eldest brother at the time (but that’s a whole other story), where destined to emigrate to the British Mandate of Palestine (Eretz Yisrael).  My mouth dropped to the floor.  I was in shock.  So many things were processing through my brain that I couldn’t fathom all of this new information.  Who?Where? When?…..But I stopped asking and kept on listening.  Unfortunately, not even the liberation of survivors could protect Jews of Europe from deeply rooted and disgusting anti-semitism.  Before my grandfather, grandmother, and his brothers were destined to emigrate to Palestine (Israel before the establishment of the state), my grandfathers brothers went to their town in Boleslawiec, Poland, to see if there was anyone else/or anything left at the their house.  Let’s just say that anti-semitism found them, and now their picture is on display in the Holocaust Museum in DC.  So what does my grandfather do now? With no one else except my grandma being treated for Typhus at the time, waiting for her original groom to return so they can leave this war torn region, where Germany was once the most enlightened and civil countries ahead of its time.  I guess that can all change when people are desperate and don’t have food on the table…there’s always someone to blame I guess.

Regardless of how I got here to where I am, I am American and proud.  I know its not the 4th of July quite yet, but.. it’s never too late to say America with joy!  There’s a lot of reasons to celebrate and be happy of the lives that we live.  I know that it might sound cheesy, but my heart is in the east, but I am happily and able to be thinking and dreaming a far in the west.  So here’s to the many celebrations today, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Cinco De Mayo, Simon’s Birthday, liberation……..

My grandfather Shimon

My grandfather Shimon

The most powerful liberation is the one that we do for ourselves.  I don’t know who this is directed for, but I needed to share it.  I don’t know who will find meaning in this, but I hope that there is something that you can take away and keep it in your mind and heart.

I know that people my age might not know, or don’t feel comfortable talking about their family’s hardships because it is in the past and sometime it’s hard to relate, because we will never know the hardships that they went through, but in some way it shapes who we are in the present and future.  So go learn, live, and talk because each memory and story is important.

Yom Ha’Atmaut Sameach everyone….and many more to come.

About a week and a half later, I am finished with finals and I am successfully in Israel for the next two weeks.  It’s about 12:14 am right now, and I am currently in Tzfat.  I’ve been to Israel a fair amount of times, but I’ve never needed to be here more in my life than now.  There’s something so special being in this country, whether you’re at Clara in Tel Aviv, hiking in the Negev, praying by the kotel, buying something lavish at Mamilla, or spending a restful shabbat with loved ones.  Just appreciate where we are now, and what we can do to make a better future.