On the eve of Memorial Day, I experienced two extraordinary “firsts”: I stood perfectly still in the aisle of an Egged bus for a full minute while its engine was running without fear that it would jolt forward suddenly and catapult me through the windshield, and I experienced the raw emotional power of the Yom Hazikaron siren while in this position.
Until that point, I had always been in the office with my colleagues or at home with my family for the annual moment of reflection and inspiration. Indeed, it was my first time experiencing the “To-Go” version, and it was absolutely surreal.
It had been a long day of meetings and post-Passover catch-up, and I was slumped over in my seat on the bus, scrolling through my Facebook feed on my cell phone and fighting to stay awake. Suddenly, the bus came to a screeching halt at a green light and the bus driver sprang to his feet and stood at attention. It only took me a second to realize what was happening and join him in the aisle, but it felt like an eternity – I simply could not stand up fast enough.
When I reached my feet, the scene captured in the windshield, a picture window onto the streets of Jerusalem, sent a chill down my spine. Dozens of people stood perfectly still on every corner of the intersection as if frozen in time. The headlights from the cars and buses formed a hypnotizing circle of light.
On the bus, our ears synced with the siren, and we were enveloped in a deep, almost tangible silence. Behind me, a young mother stood holding her baby; behind her, an old man had slowly risen to his feet. In front of me, three young men sat silent but noticeably determined not to stand.
I closed my eyes, bowed my head, and spent the rest of that special moment considering the sacrifices made by the brave men and women of the Israeli Defense Forces on behalf of this great nation.
But when the siren ended and the bus driver fired up his chariot once more, I returned to my seat to reflect on what I had seen. Though fleeting, it had made an indelible mark on my soul.
A disordered mess of thoughts and feelings streamed through my mind, but I was soon able to identify two main themes amid the chaos.
Firstly, I wondered how any Jew living in the State of Israel could deny the importance of the IDF, and how Jewish parents could allow their children to grow up without a strong understanding of the fundamental necessity to appropriately express hakarat hatov – true, heartfelt gratitude. Even if they disagree with the “law of the land” and despise the government, shouldn’t these young men still make some small gesture to show thanks to their protectors? Isn’t that an elemental Jewish value?
Of course, these questions were merely rhetorical, and I was truly disgusted by their silent protest. But instead of verbalizing my anger (the Israeli pastime), I decided to use this experience to further fuel my determination to raise my children to both seek out opportunities to give to others as well as adequately thank others for giving to them. In this way, they would regard IDF service as a given, as an opportunity to honor those who came before them while serving and protecting their country. (If you think about it, army service is actually a never-ending cycle of hakarat hatov.)
I also noticed that I hadn’t snapped a single picture with my phone, a prevalent knee-jerk reaction in the age of social media. And by allowing myself to experience the siren without an intermediary, I was able to concentrate on and internalize the true weight and meaning of the moment.
In this way, I was reminded that there are moments that are simply too significant and sacred to be interrupted by an amateur photo shoot. It would no doubt be challenging, but I decided then and there that I would also make a concerted effort to impress upon my sons the importance and beauty of “natural moments,” those that are experienced only through our own eyes and left to memory thereafter. While pictures taken with one’s mind tend to lose resolution with time, the feelings acquired during such natural moments remain rich and meaningful for years after their photographed counterparts have faded.
Of course, the common thread between my two realizations is appreciation. As Jews and Israelis, we must always value what we have accomplished and be grateful for that which we have been given. It is our responsibility to stop and smell the roses, gift roses in thanks, and transmit these ideals to our children.
As we head into Yom Haatzmaut, we must realize that the day is about more than just barbecues. (I know, I was also shocked when I figured this out.)
Rather, it is a day for us to teach our children (and remind each other) about pride, strength, and most of all appreciation, both for things we have been gifted as well as that which we have earned.
It is a day to stand up for Zionism and to enjoy natural moments with our friends, families and complete strangers in the shared public spaces across this great land of ours.
It is a day to get on the bus.