The transition from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Haatzmaut is a shock every year.
To be honest, on any given day the different sides of life in Israel can be a shock too. Sometimes things feel so mundane and normal. Other times, for the good and the bad, you are reminded of the intensity and extraordinariness of this country. Sometimes by the smallest things, sometimes by big events and incidents and occasions.
Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut are everything this country stands for condensed into the two longest, most intense and contrasting days imaginable.
On Yom Hazikaron we think of the sacrifice of the soldiers who died protecting us and defending our country, of the victims of terrorism killed just for being Jews living in Israel. This year we remember 23,447 soldiers, and 2,576 terror victims. The numbers and the pain are overwhelming and incomprehensible. As an Olah, Yom Hazikaron makes me think of what I have done and what I can or should do for this country. This country that I am so privileged and honoured and grateful to live in, when so many gave their lives fighting for us.
Yom Hazikaron was a night of hearing the stories of soldiers and civilians who were killed, and the pain of their loved ones. At the end of an evening of songs of grief and comfort at Kikar Safra, we stood for Hatikva. It was subdued, a struggle to sing, almost choking on the words through tears, pleading, praying for hope, and reassuring ourselves and each other that we have not lost our hope to be a free people in our land.
On Yom Hazikaron we mourn and remember those who gave their lives for our people and country. The next night we move into Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, celebrating that despite the losses, our nation still lives on, in our homeland.
The celebrations go through the night, with parties, parades, music, singing and dancing wherever you go. The next day is more low key, but it’s practically an obligation to hike or tour (museums and many attractions are free on Yom Haatzmaut), to celebrate and make the most of the beauty, history and culture of our homeland. Barbeques are also practically an obligation, as is more music and singing. In Jerusalem, this means the famous Gan Saker teeming with groups of families and friends – all with very different tastes in music competing with one another. Folk tunes, guitars and drumming from one group. Painfully bad Mizrachi karaoke from the one next to it. (And that is coming from a big Mizrachi music fan.)
On the night of Yom Haatzmaut the songs were of faith and thanks, standing below the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. There, but not quite. The Yom Haatzmaut Hatikva is a different entity from the night before. We sang with power and confidence and pride in our voices. We suffered, we fought, but we prevail. The state of Israel is a miracle, but we’re still not free in our homeland, we are still fighting for our independence. But we are determined, we are here, we have got this far and we have not lost our hope – and no one will take that away from us. This was a different kind of prayer, a prayer that our belief and hope in our faith, our people and our country, remain unshakeable. Because as long as it does, no one can defeat us.
We celebrate Yom Haatzmaut as though our lives depend on it – because they kind of do.