A few years ago, before Yom Haatzmaut, I was asked by my sister to make a video of myself. Our school in America was making a video presentation for their annual community celebration, and wanted to hear from alumni who have made aliyah and built lives in our homeland. Then a young, new teacher, I spent two minutes or less telling about me and my life in Israel. Later I would learn that one fragment generated especially positive feedback: “Living here isn’t always so easy, isn’t always so pleasant,” I told my former community, “but it’s an amazing experience and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.” That touch of reality in my idealistic mantra brought the point home, and thereafter resonated within me too.
Today, I have another bit of reality I’d like to share.
Sitting in my office on the eve of Yom Hazikaron, I was taken back to this short video. For about a week the atmosphere in our State has been gloomy, as we passed through Yom Hashoa and right into the preparations for those precious moments of solidarity we spend remembering our fallen. The newspaper today is full of stories of soldiers of all ages and backgrounds, each one’s unique story, and the loss their families feel. And then, another few experiences, close in proximity, added a few pounds to my heavy heart.
In my earphones played the captivating song written in memory of Gil-Ad, Naftali and Eyal hy”d, who were kidnapped and shot by terrorists, and I remembered last summer. Those weeks were a nightmare and the nation’s response a dream, but either way after 10 months it’s hard to believe something like that even happened.
On my way home, I saw the smiling face of Shalom Yochai Cherki hy”d, murdered only a few days ago, on a flier for an evening of remembrance taking place at the site of the attack.
And only a few meters later, I was in front of the Merkaz HaRav yeshiva, where I stood and weeped seven years ago as eight righteous young men were eulogized and led to their eternal resting places after having been massacred.
That was enough to make me sigh and say, “Oy, what has befallen us?”
“Living here isn’t always so easy, isn’t always so pleasant,” I told my former community.
Today I was reminded how much hurt and pain we, as a country and a people, carry. How many tragedies and frustrations we need to bear every year. How not easy and not pleasant it can be to live in the State of Israel.
Yet today I learned another lesson in reality: this is why I’m here. It is true that I decided to make aliyah to enjoy widespread kosher food, to celebrate the chagim with a special country-wide atmosphere, to hike across the land and see its beautiful landscapes, and to pray at the Kotel. I had no intention or desire to hear dreadful news, to mourn, or to sigh incessantly. But essentially, I came here to be a part of “Am Yisrael Chai.” I came to rejoice and to sing, I came to mourn and to cry; I came to be a part of this chapter in the Jewish people’s story.
The fact that we are here proclaims “Am Yisrael Chai.” The fact we have a state for 67 years screams “Am Yisrael Chai.” And yes, even the fact that there are those who desperately want us dead undoubtedly announces “Am Yisrael Chai!”
When dealing with such a tragic reality, my point of reference is my grandmother. My grandmother lived through the Shoah. In those days she experienced unthinkable cruelty. In looking up from the death and desolation of Jewish life, there wasn’t much to look to. The view was a bleak barbed wire fence, and the sky a pillar of dark and putrid smoke.
One of my most meaningful experiences in Israel was on a volunteer trip in high school. We did some gardening work in the Har Herzl cemetery, overlooking the beautiful Jerusalem forest and surrounding neighborhoods. Buried there are soldiers, young and old, who fell while building our people and our land. In looking up from the death and desolation of these Jewish lives, there was so much to look to. My view was of Yerushalayim, and under my feet, supporting me, I had all those who acquired it for me.
In only a few hours, we will transition from the pain and somberness of Yom Hazikaron straight into Yom Haatzmaut. We will perform the remarkable feat of looking up from the bereavement of the fourth of Iyar, but realizing that it brought us the joy and celebration of the fifth. It made us who we are today, and it, too, is part of “Am Yisrael Chai.”
Living here isn’t always so easy, isn’t always so pleasant, but it’s an amazing experience and I won’t give it up for anything.