Israel’s Independence Day has always been an emotional rollercoaster for me. I am a living contradiction in terms: a peacenik patriotic Israeli. I’m proud to be Israeli even though I am not proud of so many things done in the name of our nation’s security. I’ve been here, by choice, for over half a century now. This is the only country where I truly feel at home. And though I am often ashamed of the things my country has done, and continues to do, I am unashamed to be Israeli. With all its flaws, injustice, political chaos and corruption, Israel is my country.
Today is Memorial Day: Again this year I am observing the day at home, not at a military cemetery where I usually take part in a memorial service. This year, just as last year, I waited for the evening siren and lit a candle, quietly mourning fallen friends. This year I did not do that alone: My family in the US joined me in the moment of silence, connected on zoom, and connected by love. Each one of my siblings has a very different take on this country. None of them live here, nor would they want to. Their opinions about Israel range from pro to con to somewhere in between. But we are all connected and they know that this is my home. My family’s solidarity with me is personal, not at all political. Throughout this crazy Covid year they’ve been there for me – on the phone, on zoom. My siblings have dubbed me the Zoominatrix, ostensibly because I organize our weekly zoom calls. Though I suspect the title may also derive from my tendency to speak louder than anyone else, thus dominating the zoom-room. Whatever the reason, they are there for me every week, as is my mom, sharing daily calls, commiserating over ‘the situation’ and planning our reunion. Zoom rooms are okay, but we are counting the days till we’re together again in one non-virtual room. In the meantime, I am infinitely grateful for the support of my family far away.
This evening when Memorial Day ends, the celebrations begin for Israel’s 73rd birthday. Happy people will be dancing to live music in the town square right across from my building. A public celebration like this was inconceivable just a few months ago. Now that we are reaching herd immunity, the herd is free to dance in the streets. So it is that this Independence Day is a celebration of freedom in Israel. I’m not sure if I’ll join the throngs outside but it is wonderful just to know that I can. I have a new appreciation for the freedom to go outside and mingle.
Tonight will be especially nice for me because our town has decided to cancel the fireworks. I have always found it ironic that we Israelis celebrate our independence with pyrotechnics. In this country we’ve been through so much armed conflict that the last thing many people want to hear is a barrage of deafening explosions and flashes of light in the air. I’m especially aware of this, since my building is at the epicenter, located next to the site of the town’s annual fireworks display. Feels like a war zone, I’d say every year. It will be a pleasure not to endure the bombardment tonight.
The reason for this respite is that is year, our mayor had the original idea to ask the townsfolk whether or not we wanted fireworks. There was a poll and the response was a resounding NO! “As a result of the negative impact fireworks have on shellshock victims and pets, and the residents’ clear standing on the matter, there will be no fireworks this year, and most likely this will be in effect in the upcoming years as well,” our mayor wrote. Hooray for him!
Freedom: A few months ago we were in our third lockdown and it seemed like this nightmare would never end. Even an incurable optimist like me was getting down. But then came the vaccinations, and our cities came back to life. I’m still working from home, teaching online, but no longer under house arrest. I can meet friends at outdoor cafés and go out for walks whenever I want. I’ve come out of my cave, thanks to Pfizer, and am happily rejoining the world outside my small apartment. This holiday, I can finally spend the day with friends, at the traditional Independence Day barbecue. This ritual is so commonplace that it would seem trivial were it not for the fact that such a social event was impossible just last year.
I’m celebrating my freedom and praying that soon everyone, everywhere can join us in this good fortune. The light at the end of the tunnel is bright and clearly visible for us. I am grateful for this freedom and for everyone who did their part in making this happen.
Independence Day 2021: Freedom never felt so good.