Shani Weinmann Kay

A normally not normal day

Today on Memorial Day, normally, I would be adding another article about visiting Zahara’s grave. For a quick refresher, I stumbled upon the grave of a fighter pilot named Zahara two years in a row, and for someone who doesn’t believe in coincidence, I took it upon myself to be the one to visit her every year on this day. With every visit, comes another layer to this tale of non-coincidence. For the past two years, the two people standing at her grave have been me and a pilot assigned to visit her by the army. At this point, we have grown in our bond of limited words and knowing head nods and he put me in contact with the family. Even the family at the grave next to Zahara have heard my story and joined our little crew of loving strangers. After the ceremony, I begin my rounds to all the people who have impacted my life with their story and unfortunately, to members of my unit who fell during my service. My friends and I walk through Har Herzl together and tell each other stories and anecdotes and “Do you remember that time when…” This is the day I set aside for mourning, introspection, and a general review of my own time in the army and all of the trauma, experience, and laughter. 

This year however, I don’t quite know how to deal with this day. I am used to a tekes at the Kotel, or on base, or in any other venue except my living room. Most of all, I am used to standing amongst people, flocked by my friends, and hugging each other to show mutual support of that huge time we all went through. We’ve lost friends, family, acquaintances, or just been tested in many ways that make this day packed with a great thanks to those who came before us. This year, I watch a computer screen as the siren blasts outside my window. I don’t get to go to Har Herzl tomorrow, instead I will be tuning in to more screen ceremonies and trying to find a way to express myself somewhere between the kitchen and the front door. I am sure this is a question hanging in front of so many today, “What do you do when you can no longer?”

How do we create a new way to mourn and celebrate today and tomorrow on Independence Day when we’re feeling just a little too independent.

I wish I had a concrete answer and some advice that I could preach right now, but I am just as thrown as everyone. Maybe that’s all we can do is just be thrown, but together. We can focus on the constants: there are still ceremonies, there is still a siren, there are still the familiar songs playing on the radio, people are still functioning, etc. Make a list of everything that hasn’t changed at the moment and be present with where you are right now. I’ve always learned that acceptance is the key step to dealing with your surroundings, however challenging. While I may not be physically at Zahara’s grave this year, I can still reach out to her family or do something in her honor. I can still talk to my friends and spend the day reminiscing and bonding all over again. I can bring the air of the day into my life through my school’s dance project. I can, lastly, take this time to look back on my time in the army and be thankful for all the growth it allowed me in order to become the woman and the friend I am today. So, (don’t tell my friends I said this) thank you IDF for a chance to be part of something greater than myself and for an opportunity to be part of this day, even from afar. 

About the Author
Shani Weinmann Kay was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in the Jewish community of Toco Hills. She attended Torah Day School of Atlanta and Yeshiva Atlanta before coming to Midreshet Harova and then joining the IDF. She is studying Dance and Psychology.
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