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Remembering the Yom Kippur War… in a bouncy castle?

An inflatable giraffe and a Sponge Bob labyrinth don't remove the pain of war, but they make kids happy, and isn't that the point?
A shark-themed inflatable slide adjacent to the Mandate-era Tegart fortress, now home to the IDF Armored Corps Memorial Museum (Photo: Zack Rothbart)
A shark-themed inflatable slide adjacent to the Mandate-era Tegart fortress, now home to the IDF Armored Corps Memorial Museum. (courtesy)

The Hebrew word “heppening” – yes, it’s a bastardization of the English “happening” – means a special event, often of a fun and joyous nature. A specific subcategory of “heppening” is the “heppening mishpakhti” – a “family happening” – the site of countless sugar highs (and lows), sticky fingers, colorful faces, and deferred bedtimes.

When I received the first of multiple invites to a “family happening” commemorating 50 years since the Yom Kippur War, I honestly thought it was a phishing attack, perhaps an Iranian effort to lure IDF vets and reservists into having their phones hacked.

Yet – after checking with relevant officials – it soon became clear that there was no malicious intent whatsoever. In fact, the event was intended to be the exact opposite: a delightful family-friendly gathering, an occasion for the IDF to express gratitude to its soldiers, past, present and (presumably) future.

Like a well-oiled promotional machine of the sort you’d expect from a leading concert venue, numerous reminders were sent in the weeks and days leading up to the event:

  • Have you registered yet?
  • The bouncy castles and games await you!
  • There will be a surprise guest performance!
  • Don’t miss the soldiers of ‘23 saluting the soldiers of ‘73!
  • The minister of defense will be there!

The army is a rather bizarre place and reserve duty even more so – an alternate reality where otherwise normative people leave their families, jobs and lives, dress up in matching outfits along with other otherwise normative people who have left their families, jobs and lives and either actively protect Israel’s national interests or play war games, pretending to actively protect Israel’s national interests.

Yet the “heppening” seemed like an extra level of strange. 

Something about the idea of bouncy castles, Yom Kippur War veterans, and the venue: Latrun, the site of some of the bloodiest and most critical battles of Israel’s War of Independence.

I wondered what the veterans who fought in ‘73 would think of the “heppening.”

Would the site, the nostalgic music or the context of the event bring them back to that devastating time in Israeli history, a time of national and personal trauma, a time of lost friends and loved ones, of a quite literal fight for personal and collective survival?

Would the bouncy castles, treats and surprise musical guest offend their sensibilities?

I didn’t ask, but it also didn’t seem necessary either.

As strange as it was to see a large inflatable giraffe next to a tank hangar, or a double-length table featuring a candy fondue station next to the artillery-riddled Mandate-era fortress now housing the IDF Armored Corps Memorial Museum, it was also beautiful in its own way.

A large inflatable giraffe next to a tank hangar. (courtesy)

As the “family happening” wound down, the salute to the fighters of ‘73, including words from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, approached. It was the latest in a series of national “days of disruption” as thousands of Israelis took to the streets in protest of the government’s current judicial reform plans. A few protestors gathered at Latrun, yet the current tensions in Israeli society were not felt at the “happening.” 

The devastation of wars fought decades ago and the contemporary political and social strife remained in the background, yet those in attendance at the “family happening” were pretty much focused on one thing: their children.

In fact, the inflatable SpongeBob-themed labyrinth a stone’s throw from an army Jeep, the bouncy castle besides a shell-pocked military structure, and the sticky hands all over long-ago decommissioned tanks are all, in their own beautiful and distinct way, metaphors for the Israeli experience.

From the post-Holocaust establishment of the state, to the tense and bloody wars fought over the decades, the need to focus on children and the future, as opposed to dwelling on the past, has always remained a central, if unspoken value of Israeli society.

So, as it turns out, the “family happening” to mark 50 years since the Yom Kippur War actually wasn’t really nearly as weird or paradoxical as it seemed at first glance. If anything, it was in fact natural, and for this particular lesson in Israeli civics and historio-social resilience, it was worth the sugar highs (and lows) and the deferred bedtimes. 

Nonetheless, after pulling out of the parking lot past groups of flag-waving veterans, decidedly daunting questions awaited in the inflatable giraffe-less reality outside: What future are Israel’s current leaders leaving for our children and what will a “family happening” look like 50 years from now?

About the Author
Zack Rothbart is a Jerusalem-based writer and publicist. He is currently Senior Strategist at Concrete Media, and previously served as the National Library of Israel's international spokesman. Zack tries to learn something from everyone, and lives with his endearing and thought-provoking family, for which he is grateful. Feel free to email him via the "Contact Me" link above.
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