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Naomi Graetz

Israel’s 20th Anniversary Parade and Me: Reflections

Israel Television 50 Years Stamp Featuring Logos (from our stamp collection)

FIFTY-FIVE YEARS AGO

On May 2nd 1968, my parents and my husband left me behind in Alonei Yitzchak to attend the IDF parade in Jerusalem for Israel’s 20th Independence Day. The reason I didn’t go with them was that I was very pregnant, due to give birth imminently. That of course, was the reason why my mother and father were here, to be with ME. My parents as tourists had seats in the stands with the VIP’s and I was left behind. I had no choice; but I was very resentful. The military parade in Jerusalem was selected to be the first broadcast of Israel Televison. Fortunately, there was one person who had a TV in the youth village where we lived at the time, and so I got to watch it live in black and white while my parents and husband celebrated it live in color and in person. It was also the first time that I “met” Hayim Yavin, the legendary news broadcaster with his soothing baritone voice. For many years I went to sleep with Yavin, and even today I am lulled asleep by the news as it is being broadcast.

More than half a million people watched Israel’s 20th Anniversary Independence Day parade wind through the streets of the then united Jerusalem under clear skies while Israel’s Air Force put on a display of power and skill. The parade was controversial. Many questioned the wisdom of a display of military might and thought that such parades were to be identified only with dictatorships. My husband and parents sat in a special section of the AACI on Givat Ha-Mivtar. They were thrilled to see from close up the President, Prime Minister and even Moshe Dayan who was dressed in uniform. They also saw leaders from Muslim and Christian communities dressed in their religious garb. They all stood for Hatikvah. They were impressed with the display of Israel’s armed strength, especially the fly-overs of the Air Force’s jet planes which let out blue and white smoke and formed the number twenty. My mother in particular reported about how she saw women soldiers marching with guns. There was a lot of traffic, but they didn’t dare complain to me about that. They spent the night in Jerusalem. All of this was reported to me Friday when they came back. Saturday night we went out for pancakes to the then famous and only Pancake House near Hadera and though I felt some twinges, continued eating, enjoying every bite. I joked that if necessary, it was near the hospital. The next day Sunday morning, May 5th.  I went into labor and gave birth to my daughter at Hillel Yaffa Hospital in Hadera. For years my husband joked that it was the pancakes that gave me the strength to last the whole day without food.

My memories of that time are vague, but not of my being left out. Giving birth in Israel in those days was a lonely experience, there were no loving husbands with you giving you encouragement. Instead, I was by myself, in a room with three other very pregnant women, who were strangers to me and wondered how I kept myself busy with a deck of cards, playing solitaire. I was admitted at eight in the morning and gave birth at eight that evening. The birth was uneventful; no complications and four days later, we came back home to Alonei Yitzchak with our new baby. Later that week, all my first cousins who lived in Israel (survivors from the Shoah) came from Dimona, Holon, Nazareth Ilit, and Tel Aviv to meet their aunt (my mother). A lot of Hungarian, Hebrew and English was spoken. This time, I didn’t feel left out; I had a baby to take care of.

 

MEMORIES OF EARLY CELEBRATIONS

By1969 we were living in Jerusalem and I learned for the first time that to be truly Israeli on Independence Day you had to have a squeaky plastic hammer with which to hit people on their heads. Our big treat at the time was walking to Café Allenby on King George, which normally closed at 10 PM to buy gelidah americai (frozen whipped ice cream). That became our custom for several years (by then with 2 children) until we moved to Omer.

In Omer, as a rabbinic couple we hosted many Independence Day parties in our house and they were simple affairs with popcorn and snacks and singing Israeli songs. It was a big deal to walk to the center of town with our children and enjoy the free entertainment (mostly school kids dancing) and the fireworks. When they were old enough the children were free to do what they wanted and we never worried about them (until they were old enough to drive). Entertainment was simple and our friends started hosting various get togethers to which we happily went. The main hosts of the parties were our close friends. Often, we went on nature trips with close friends the next day and picnicked or barbecued at home. Five years ago, we spent Independence Day at my daughter’s, for her 50th birthday. The whole family, on both sides were there and we had a big barbecue. The past ten years have been very poignant for us, since the daughter of one of our closest friends died on Rosh Chodesh Iyar and the Shiva was during that very fraught time period. We spent every evening at their home— standing for the siren one evening and eating falafel the next. It was also during the shiva period that my youngest granddaughter was born. She is now ten years old.

THE 55th YEAR

And now we are in the 55th year since that innocent Independence Day of yesteryear. When we came to Israel after the Six-Day War, we shared the euphoria of the victory, we wanted to be part of this new Israel. We were thrilled to travel all over freely, since as students in 1965, we couldn’t go to the Old City or the West Bank. We thought nothing of the fact that we were conquerors. We were on the right side then—or so we naively thought. We gave up a life of economic ease in the States, in that we were on the way to a pulpit in Spokane Washington, and instead came to spend two years in Israel, which turned into many more (since we never left). We had a visceral sense of what Yom Hazikaron meant. My second cousin from Holon had untreated PTSD from being a soldier in the Six Day War; my first cousin from Dimona had lost an eye during the 1948 War. One of my colleagues at the university was a war widow (her husband was a pilot). In Jerusalem I tutored burn patients after the Yom Kippur War. In Omer, we went to the Andarta every year on the eve of Yom Hazikaron and knew everyone who had lost a son or daughter on the battlefields.

It would have been unfathomable to us then that the sanctity of Yom Hazikaron would be turned into a political football. Only a few people saw the writing on the wall—that our victory would turn into a conquest. In our immediate nuclear family, we run the gamut of political views (especially when we include our grandchildren). Our next-door neighbor’s husband was killed at Suez in 1973. Every year they commemorate the occasion by going to the Military Cemetery in Beersheba. I don’t know if they have been going to the demonstrations, but I wonder how they will react if Itamar Ben Gvir shows up as planned in Beersheba and gives a political speech. Who could have imagined then that a family would put on a fallen soldier’s military grave: “Sorry, Yossi, this year we won’t be here for you, we’ve gone out to fight for the right of freedom and democracy”.

How will we commemorate our 55th Yom-Hazikaron and Independence Day. This year, it will be low-keyed. We will go the Omer Cemetery to be with our close friends, whose daughter died when she was in the Air Force. The only possible militant act might be that the mother will for the first time say kaddish in public. Then in the evening we will have our usual tekes ma’avar in our synagogue, to mark the transition from the sadness of  Memorial Day to that of Independence Day. I will actively participate by reading Chapter 3 from Kohelet and my husband will blow the Shofar. Then we will go home and watch Television as is traditional for all Israelis. There is a sense in the air that something will happen; that protests might mar the ceremonies on Mt. Herzl.  We hope that nothing untoward will happen to mark the day. Then perhaps we will go out later in the evening to our friends and drink a toast to the 75th anniversary of Israel, which happens to be our 55th anniversary of celebrating Independence in Israel.

About the Author
Naomi Graetz taught English at Ben Gurion University of the Negev for 35 years. She is the author of Unlocking the Garden: A Feminist Jewish Look at the Bible, Midrash and God; The Rabbi’s Wife Plays at Murder ; S/He Created Them: Feminist Retellings of Biblical Stories (Professional Press, 1993; second edition Gorgias Press, 2003), Silence is Deadly: Judaism Confronts Wifebeating and Forty Years of Being a Feminist Jew. Since Covid began, she has been teaching Bible from a feminist perspective on zoom.
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