We call ourselves Ramah lifers. One of Ramah’s missions is to blend the US and Israeli Jewish communities. Each summer, National Ramah hires young Israeli adults and families as staff members for the camps throughout North America and Israel. Living together at camp enables members of each community to share stories and perspectives.
We befriended a very special Israeli family while at camp. After we built our home in Israel we were invited into their inner friendship circle. We have shared many Shabbat and holiday meals together. One of our favorite holidays to celebrate with our new circle of friends is Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day). We are the only non-Israelis. I LOVE how the day is structured.
Yom Ha’Zikaron (Memorial Day) immediately precedes the Day of Independence. The day is sobering, a siren sounds for two minutes in the morning. The country comes to a halt even the highways. Everyone gets out of their cars and stands in silence. Most Israelis know someone who was killed in action or a terrorist attack. The day is spent visiting grave sites of the fallen and families who lost loved ones in war. It is illuminating to be in a land where everyone understands the powerful concept of freedom and independence.
We leave the city late afternoon and drive to a zimmer (motel on a kibbutz). Enroute we notice flags flying from every car, light pole and balcony. Before dinner we all squeeze into one guest room in front of a TV. We watch the end of the Memorial Tribute to the fallen, which seamlessly transitions into the Independence Day celebration. Each year we cheer as Israel becomes one year older. You feel the connection between the fallen heroes and the celebration of freedom.
The barbecue is fired up immediately after the show around 10:30 pm (or 22:30). One friend has a passion for grilling always creating exquisite marinades for barbecuing. A ten course meal appears. After dinner we sing songs from their army days and youth movements. We hike in the morning, always to a different region of the country.
One particularly memorable Independence Day, instead of bar-b-quing we went to a restaurant to celebrate six of the friends turning 60. All born shortly after the State was created. Many attended school together, some forged friendships in the army. All shared life cycle events and tragedies. At dinner each person shared a story and tribute, then we sang. I was solo that year, honored to be included.
In the morning we were given a tour of 1948 memorials by one of the friends, a professor of 1948 Israeli History. Incredibly no one had been to these sites. What struck me was how moved and grateful our friends were to the brave few who served and fell. These battle lines enabled us to strategically access Tel Aviv from the Negev. Everyone of our friends served in the army. Some had been commanders, most served on reserve duty well into their 50’s.
I remember being 16 and going to Israel for the first time with Camp Ramah. When I went to memorial sites I did not fully appreciate the enormous sacrifices people made on our behalf for Israel’s freedom and safety.
We are deeply honored to be included in Yom Ha’Zikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut with our Israeli friends. Most of their parents fled Europe, survived the Holocaust, raised their families in Israel then sent their young adults to train as soldiers. They know viscerally what it means to fight and defend their/our country, knowing each war could mean the difference between independence and freedom and…
I’m in awe of how proud they are, thriving in Israel and doing their best to build the land. They consider themselves ordinary people, I consider them my ORDINARY HEROES.