As American teenagers attending a religious, private, Jewish school, my friends and I lead relatively sheltered lives. We don’t have the weight of the knowledge that we will one day be required to serve in our country’s armed forces. We don’t have to worry about terror attacks in our streets.That is why every year when Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut come around our teachers have to ask themselves, “How do we connect these days to them? How can we make it real?” Our community is blessed to have many Shlichim and Israelis living amongst us and working in our school. While we may not be connected to the land physically, these people help connect us spiritually and emotionally.
In commemoration of Yom Hazikaron this year our Shlichim and local relatives of Lone Soldiers spoke to us about service, fearing for your or your relative’s life, and perseverance. Leading up to the somber day we watched a powerful documentary called “My Younger Elder Brother,” in which the younger siblings of fallen soldiers are interviewed about their struggle dealing with their loss. Close to the end, the documentary conveys the harsh reality of the situation, when it is revealed that one of the children being interviewed throughout the documentary was also killed in his army service. In order to further strengthen our connection to the Israeli soldiers we also watched a documentary commemorating the life of the penultimate lone soldier, the American Michael Levin. We all have friends and family who are lone soldiers, therefore his story really hit home.
On the actual day of Yom Hazikaron we watched Jerusalem U’s newest documentary, “When the Smoke Clears.” We tend to only think of the fallen soldiers on Yom Hazikaron, but this movie highlights the importance of helping the injured as well. The video puts the onus on us to both memorialize the dead, and raise up the living. The video highlighted the difficult experiences of three severely injured soldiers and why they persevere. Immediately following the screening, we participated in Jerusalem U’s international Instagram campaign to show our support and love for those who sacrificed their wellbeing for the future of not just Israel, but all Jews across the world.
The next day we too celebrated Yom Haatzmaut. As opposed to having a regular day of school, we started our day with a festive prayer service. Instead of having our usual classes we participated in mini Israel seminars, with classes ranging from “Nobel Prize Winners from Israel” to “Sports in Israel.” Our halls were fully decorated in blue and white with pictures and facts about Israel. We spent another part of the day participating in various challenges filled with Israeli trivia and games. We wrapped up the day with Israeli food and a spirited celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday filled with songs, plays,and flag dances.
Although we weren’t physically in Israel, our spirits and hearts were in the land.