As an olah, I have approached the two day emotional whammy of Yom Hazikaron/Yom Ha’atzmaut with equal parts anticipation and dread. The juxtaposition of the two days is both poignant and truly representative of the Israeli spirit of endurance and strength, Yom Hazikaron, our memorial day, followed the next day by Yom Ha’atzmaut, our independence day.
My status as an olah contributes greatly to my feelings toward and about these days. In my first years of Aliyah I looked around on Yom Hazikaron in an almost embarrassed state. Who was I to participate in this day of sadness? While I look upon all of Am Yisrael as my proverbial brothers and sisters, and the loss of those lives who we mourn on yom hazikaron sadden me greatly, my brother did not serve in Tzahal. Nor did my husband. What right did I have to cry? What right did I have to act like one of them? Like one of those who had witnessed these losses up close and personal. As an olah, I felt like an outsider.
But then came Yom Ha’atzmaut. Who feels Yom Ha’atzmaut more than the oleh? After all, we are the ones who chose this land. We chose to leave our homes and lands of origin, many of us leaving behind our families, familiar cultures and language, to build a life here in the land of our forefathers. We are the ones who understand what it means to be alone among the nations. We are the ones who understand what it means to be questioned why we can not eat the “kosher” options at a restaurant chosen for a staff getaway. We are the ones who have been commanded to explain why we can not work on Shavuot. Many olim have left lives of comfort and security to come here where their futures are uncertain. Olim have fled anti-semitism and hate, to come here and be a Jew in a Jewish land. Who appreciates Yom Ha’atzmaut more than we do?
The problem is, in both these scenarios, the oleh is on the outside. On Yom Hazikaron he is the outsider, not deserving to mourn with his brethren. On Yom Ha’atzmaut he is the outsider, superior in his choice of Israel as his home, while natives have been simply born into it, unappreciative of the gift they have been given.
My children unintentionally showed me how wrong this perspective was. This morning, on Yom Hazikaron, they donned their white shirts and blue bottoms. We talked about the siren and I reassured them that it was not going to be a rocket siren. Then, off they went into a sea of white shirts, indiscernible from the native born Israeli children.
When my oldest son came home yesterday he told me that there was going to be a siren, and that we needed to be sad. Why? For the chayalim. It didn’t matter that he is an oleh. He stands, just like everyone else and he is sad.
This morning, like many other children who experienced the war this past summer, my children needed to be reassured that the siren was not a signal of danger. It didn’t matter that they are olim. In that moment of fear they were like everyone else. Israeli. And they melted into the white shirts of all the other Israeli children going to school today. They stood at their tekes (ceremony). They thought about the fallen.
Tomorrow we will hike and barbecue, and maybe see some ships. We will look like everyone else enjoying the day. Celebrating our independence in our homeland. Reveling in the mountains and seas that G-d gave us. No one will know that we were not born here. No one will know that we are different.
Perhaps that will be because we’re not.
My children, even the ones who were not born here, are as Israeli as their classmates. My husband and I have teudot zehut in our pockets.
Just like everyone else.
We are Jewish. We mourn the loss of our brothers and sisters. We celebrate the return to our homeland.
We came here to be a part of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. These days belong to all of us equally.