It’s a good thing I don’t live in Israel.

Believe me, I’d love to. It’s been a dream for years. But when this time of year comes around, I think I’d go crazy.

I’ve gotten absolutely nothing done over the past couple of days. Instead, I’ve been spending my time trying to pretend I was in Israel. Watching hours upon hours of Israeli TV. Obsessively switching between a half dozen stations on Israeli radio. Watching every YouTube video that’s come across my Facebook feed.

Trying desperately to feel connected.

If I actually WERE in Israel, I’d be running around like a chicken without a head. From the Yom HaZikaron ceremony at the Kotel, to the tekes at the Knesset (can an average Joe actually get tickets to that?), to the official government Yom Ha’atzmaut ceremony…and then on to the rest of the country to see my favorite Israeli artists perform in cities nationwide. It would be overwhelming and downright exhausting, to say the least.

Perhaps if you live in Israel, you’re perfectly content watching all this on TV. But having never experienced this time of year in Eretz Yisrael, I’d feel compelled to be a part of EVERYTHING.

So what’s a hopeless Israeli wannabe to do this time of year?

Two words: Israeli Music.

In good times and in bad, music is there for us. Music has the unique ability to make us feel entirely connected. Music can instantly pull us in to the national mood. Music can make us cry for fallen soldiers – then cry tears of happiness and pride only a few hours later.

And most of all, music unites us. Wherever in the world we find ourselves.

Shir V'zikaron 2016Consider the album “Shir V’zikaron” — a compilation of songs for Yom Hazikaron. Now in its third annual edition, the album includes 30 new songs by some of Israel’s top singers (Sarit Hadad, Kobi Aflalo, Maya Buskila, Eliad, Maya Avraham, Riki Gal and many others). But while the nation as a whole mourns 23,477 lost souls, most of the songs on the album are written in memory of just ONE. One brave soldier, taken from the world way too soon. One poignant example is the song “Oz Va’anava”, performed by Din Din Aviv, Leah Shabbat, Miri Aloni and other prominent female singers. The song was written in memory of Lt. Hadar Goldin, whose name you may recall as one of the casualties of Operation Protective Edge. 23-year-old Hadar was killed by a suicide bomber on August 1, 2014, just months after getting engaged, and his remains are still being held by Hamas to this day.

Did you see this year’s incredibly-moving video by Shiri Maimon? Shiri teamed up with a number of young people who lost fathers in the military, all singing together in a tear-jerking version of Shiri’s hit “Sheleg BaSharav” (Snow in a Heat Wave). As the children sing, they write letters to their respective late fathers in a notebook, while hanging a photo of their dad on the wall. One girl writes in Hebrew, “Daddy, I am already in second grade. I miss you.” Simply heartbreaking. If that doesn’t put you in the right frame of mind for Israel’s Memorial Day, I don’t know what will.

Shiri Maimon

As the bitter pain of Yom Hazikaron melts into the ecstatic pride of Yom Ha’atzmaut, the music follows suit. It’s the best day of the year to listen to Israeli radio! Is there anything better than the classic songs that celebrate the land of Israel? Well, what’s old is new again. For the past couple of years, President Rivlin has invited his social media followers to submit a video of themselves singing a classic Israeli song in honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut. Last year, it was “Ahavtiha” by Shlomo Artzi, and this year, he chose “Shalom Lach Eretz Nehederet” by Yehoram Gaon. A very creative video editor took all of the hundreds of videos submitted and stitched them all together to form a huge, worldwide virtual choir – and the result is beautiful. Talk about Jewish unity!

President Rivlin's Video 2016

Another meaningful project released today was called “Mangina Lamedina” (A Melody for the State). In this series carried by Channel 10 television as well as a number of radio stations, several of Israel’s most popular singers visited soldiers on army bases throughout the country and sang with them. The series was put together by Yoram Swisa of Radio Darom. These short videos offer a beautiful glimpse into the lives of various Israeli soldiers – all of whom proudly express their profound joy in serving the State of Israel. These soldiers deserve our sincere gratitude each and every day, so it’s only fitting that some of them receive the thrill of a lifetime – to sing with their musical idols. Idan Raichel, Dudu Aharon, Eden Ben-Zaken, Mosh Ben Ari, Shiri Maimon, Arkadi Duchin, Rotem Cohen and Idan Amedi all participated In this inspiring project. Watch the entire series here.

Idan Raichel

Alas, I write today while sitting 6,000 miles away from the action. But thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we can feel more connected than ever to our beloved Israel. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, online TV and radio (not to mention one amazing radio show devoted exclusively to Israeli music!), YouTube and other technological breakthroughs all help us partake in this season of national pride from anywhere in the world…and music is the perfect medium to tie it all together.

On this miraculous day of Yom Ha’atzmaut — and every day — we pray that the State of Israel enjoy many, many years of peace and prosperity, holiness and happiness…and of course, great music.