I stood on the roof of my apartment in Jerusalem, holding my trusted ArtScroll siddur. As the military planes flew by overhead, displaying the skill of the Israeli air force, I was distractedly trying to say the morning service.
Many things often take my attention away throughout the course of a tefillah – a song I hear in the background, thinking about tasks I have to accomplish, conversations to which I want to contribute –but, in this case, I had my siddur in one hand, my cell phone in the other, trying, agitatedly, to find the appropriate additions for Yom Ha’atzmaut tefillah.
Ultimately, I was able to find a PDF and sort of pieced together something special for the holiday – full Hallel and a Prayer for the State of Israel included.
Several summers ago, my friend, Naomi, the Israeli counterpart to the NCSY summer program I staffed gave me this siddur as a reminder. Literally – in the front of the siddur, Naomi had decorated the inside cover and written the words, “Tekah B’Shofar Gadol L’Cheruteinu – a reminder of the In Gathering of the Exiles, and a reminder to me, not to forget that I wanted to make myself one of those ingathered.
This I have done, as I commemorated my first Yom HaZikaron as a citizen, and then experienced the strange juxtaposition that occurs when, as a country, we shifted from one of the most heart-wrenching days of the calendar to a day of celebrating and barbeques as we added another year to the life of the small strip of land we call our home.
And, transitions I have made. Transitioning from life in the United States to life in Israel; transitioning from teaching in an elementary school to working in an office (and a really awesome office at that)! Transitioning from speaking English all day to … speaking English all day. But, slowly, slowly, my Hebrew skills are building.
I’ve transitioned a lot, and to be honest, until these last few days, I had not been terribly emotional about it.
But, these past few days, something finally hit me.
It was standing in silence on Yom HaZikaron as the siren wailed, both in the evening, and the following morning. Experiencing this roaring silence, this pregnant moment of pause in our day; we remember.
It was listening to the stories and songs of siblings, parents, and children whose family members had been killed in terror attacks, and crying together with them, arm in arm, rather than from thousands of miles away. It was hearing the mother, who lost her daughter, son-in-law and three of her grandchildren, speak so elegantly, with such simplicity and bravery and raw emotion, that left me bereft of words, and only in awe of her strength.
It was hearing the widow speak of her husband, caught and killed in the Carmel fires three years ago, learning about his life and his world, and her world that was lost.
And then, it was transition.
It was singing the words of Hatikvah at the end of Yom HaZikaron, tears streaming down my face as I realized the gravity of these words:
As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart,
With eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion,
Then our hope – the two-thousand-year-old hope – will not be lost:
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.
These words that Jews the world around sing rang truer that ever as I experienced them for the first time as an olah chadasha.
The transition continued with a festive prayer service, with songs of praise and thanks, with dancing until the early hours of the morning, the traditional Israeli folk dances, and singing songs, and spending the day barbecuing in the park with friends, and family, and our whole nation.
As I stood on my roof, with my old, trusted ArtScroll siddur, I read that reminder to return to the land (a reminder that served me well). Yet, I failed to piece together the right words and special prayers needed to say thank you for our homeland. Because, in this siddur, I could not find a “Seder Yom Ha’atzmaut, as I had seen the previous night in the Rinat Yisrael siddur.
And, I realized that I have more transitions to make. Because here, ArtScroll simply might not be enough.