It was almost like looking at a painting. One with bright, vivid colors and finely captured detail.
Almost everything had stopped.
Cars pulled over, and people stood next to them, completely still. Parents and children stopped walking along the sidewalks, playing in the parks, shopping and eating in the malls.
For two minutes, life came to a complete standstill. For two minutes we remembered the 25,578 for whom life also once came to a standstill, but never resumed.
We realized that as soon as the sirens were finished, we would carry on with what we were doing. We would go back to work, to driving, to playing, shopping and eating.
But we would also continue to remember.
We remember those who died on the battlefield to defend this country, and those who were off-the-battlefield targets because of the military uniforms that they wore with such pride.
We remember those on the right who died defending their ideological belief in a Greater Israel, and for those on the left who died while still believing and hoping that one day the fighting between the two peoples in this land will end and we can all realize our national aspirations.
We remember the religiously observant of those who died believing that all that happens is from heaven, whether or not we understand the “why” and the “wherefore,” and we remember those who died believing that all of life is what we know here on earth, so we’d best make the most of what we have while we have it.
And we remember those who died for being in the wrong place at the wrong time – in the study hall of a yeshiva, in a coffee house, supermarket or on a bus.
We remember all of those who, no matter their political or religious beliefs, died for the same reason. Because they lived in the State of Israel. Whether by birth or by choice, this was their home, as it has been mine for 25 years and as it is to over 8 million people, according to this year’s Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) census report.
For a full two minutes on Monday morning, almost everything stopped.
Except for the Israeli flags. They continued flapping in the breeze while hanging from lamp posts, from balconies and attached to the back seat windows of automobiles.
These flags remind us why we stop and remember our fallen soldiers and terror victims. They help us understand how we can move directly from the harsh solemnity of Yom Hazikaron, our Memorial Day, directly into the wild celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut this evening at sundown.
Most of us who have lived in Israel for at least a few years, have people to remember on Yom Hazikaron.
We have attended funerals of family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, or army buddies, killed in battle or by a terror attack. We have paid condolence calls to those who have lost their loved ones.
Yet here we remain. We recognize that every single one of the 25,578 who have died for this country, died so that we may live as Jews in the Jewish home.
It is not only our responsibility to ensure that they did not die in vain. It is our privilege and our honor to do so.
Israel has come a long way in only 65 years. Make no mistake – we still have a hell of a road in front of us. We have made – and continue to make a lot of mistakes, as a nation and as individuals in terms of how we see ourselves as well as in how we treat those around us who look, act, think and believe differently than we do.
Our elected leaders are a never-ending work-in-progress, still trying to find their way both domestically and internationally.
But we are still here. We are strong. And despite all of the problems, if I were to start listing now everything that I love about this country and its people, I would still be writing next year when the memorial sirens blare.
Last week, Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) stood as a reminder of where we have been.
On Yom Hazikaron, we take stock of where we now are, and the dear price that we have paid to get here.
When we ring in Yom Ha’atzmaut, we look ahead to where we are going, and where we hope, and deserve to be.
May the memories of those we honor on Memorial Day all be blessings, and may we all merit to see the day when giving life for one’s country is a distant memory.