This year I am seeing my country from the Inside Out. For most of my 50 years here, I have lived the happy and hectic life of a typical city-dwelling, hard-working Israeli. It’s not that I’m a workaholic, I used to say, it’s just that I love my work. For much of my career, 70-hour work-weeks were the norm. I’m down to 50 hours these days… I am good at many things. Sitting still is not one of them. When I decided to retire, two years ago, my friends laughed, saying I couldn’t do it. Oh how I hated to admit they were right. I was back at work full-time within a year. Rush, rush, rush. I have hardly stopped to take it all in, to look at where I am and think about what I have here.
And so it is that these corona days have served me well: forcing me to slow down and take a breath. At age 68 I am still locked down. That’s why I can stop and look out my window and observe my country on its birthday. I have a chance to marvel at all that is good here – especially the many people who volunteer, who give, who work tirelessly to help others. I know there are good people everywhere. But it seems to me that I live in a country of volunteers. And for this I am thankful. Yes, there is much wrong in my country. I am not blind to the injustice and the poverty and the corruption. But today I stop and look around me and see the good. It’s our birthday, after all, time to celebrate and look forward. Time to blow out the candles and make a wish. I wish that everyone could have what I have.
Here I sit in my comfortable little bubble on Israel’s Independence Day. I look out my window and watch as my city comes back to life, as the lockdown starts to unlock. The streets slowly begin to fill with people. Two months ago I was one of those people rushing around town. Now I am a watcher. I know it’s temporary and lucky for me, this is not a hardship. Staying put is not in my nature, but I can do it. I know there is a good reason to comply. I have a safe, warm place to shelter in. I have food in my cupboard. And I have wonderful people calling to ask what they can bring me. I am glad that I can tell them, Thank you, but I truly have all I need. The life I’ve built for myself here fulfills every item on Maslow’s pyramid: physiological needs (food, water, warmth, rest); safety; love and belonging; esteem; and self-actualization. I am not wanting. And I do not take this for granted.
So many others lack these things. That’s why I am grateful for the many good people out there right now taking care of others. The incredible medical staff, police and soldiers, while not technically volunteers, have agreed to take on hazard duty: putting their lives on the line to keep others safe. Applause from our balconies are only the tiniest beginning of a thank-you to these heroes. We all owe them so much. Every night on TV I see volunteers packing food and supplies for the needy. I am frustrated that I can not go out and help them myself. I used to love packing holiday food boxes… Fortunately, it just takes a few keystrokes to donate online. If you want to help, there are many worthy organizations. Here is my pick: https://www.latet.org.il/en/emergencyresponse/
Memorial Day: For the first time this year I am not at a military cemetery taking part in an official memorial service. This year I am not standing side by side with the families of the fallen, wincing together with them as the rifles blare their 3-gun salute. That has been my experience for decades. But not this year. Instead I am inside my apartment, lighting a candle and quietly mourning fallen friends. And when Memorial Day ends, I will not be out in the town square surrounded by throngs of revelers draped in flags and blue and white paraphernalia. I will not be ducking and weaving to avoid the spray of crazy foam, trying to keep from being bopped on the head by inflatable hammers. Yeah, I know it sounds crazy to anyone who doesn’t live here. It is crazy, I guess. But this is us. Israelis celebrate in weird ways. I always found it ironic that in a country where many people have shell-shock, we celebrate by blasting fireworks over our heads. I live right across from the town square. Right next to my building is the lot where these fireworks are shot off. My neighborhood usually sounds like a war-zone on Independence Day Eve. Each boom is met with the wails of terrified babies, puppies and kittens inside my building. Boom, boom, boom. Staying inside is not an option when the building is being bombarded. No choice but to go outside to join the dance.
No fireworks this year. And that’s fine. This year I will not be watching the Air Force flyover from my rooftop. I will not be sitting on my friends’ patio in the afternoon at the traditional barbecue. And I am not even planning to watch the torch-lighting ceremony which kicks off Independence Day celebrations. In past years, my friends and I had a ritual: we would have dinner and watch the ceremony together on TV. Then we’d go out into the town square to join the crowd. This year the torch-lighting will be a digital event. I will be skipping it, mostly because of my disdain and disgust for the organizers, but also because the event will be devoid of the only part I really love: the masses of folk dancers on stage and the formations of the flag-bearers.
Turns out I don’t need the fireworks or flag-bearers. I can look out my window and celebrate my country and my life in my own quiet way. Happy birthday, Israel, and thank you for the life I have here.