I have been holding my breath not wanting them to be taken down. Our Israeli flag went up, pristine and crisp, white and blue, when we brought out our Passover dishes. And like my Passover boxes containing matzah crumbs from years past, our flag came out with memories — of wars, of peace, of loss and of renewal. Then, freshly washed, it stood ready to serve.
I have been so very proud of the flags that have dressed my neighborhood. It is unsettling to see news reports of our flag torn down, denigrated and deemed provocative. But here, in Israel, these past few months, every street light has a flag, buildings are wrapped in them and every porch has one as an integral part of the view. Our flags have been working hard. They have inspired, sheltered and protected us. And at a certain point they will need to come down. I just don’t want them to.
At Passover, the flags stood among the picnicking families, merging their blue and white with the colors and smells of the blooming flowers of spring. Family and flag joined together in the joyful spirit of rebirth and vacation — both basking in the present and fortifying themselves for the turbulent emotions of the days and weeks ahead. And then those days began.
On Holocaust Memorial Day, the flags stood, dignified and tall, attesting that the yoke of 2,000 years of Jewish history has been broken but never forgotten. And during the siren, I could have sworn I heard accompanying the rustle of the flag, the voices of those who were lost saying, “Look, our children have come home, v’ shavu banim l’gevulam.”
On Israel’s Memorial Day, I saw the flags leaning forward to protect and to comfort at memorials, at cemeteries and at school assemblies. I saw the flag sheltering those walking in the street wearing shirts embossed with names of those to be remembered. And during the deafening silence of the siren, I overheard the flag whispering to mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, children and friends, “I am with you in your sorrow and I stand here because of your mother, your father, your wife, your husband, your child, your friend.”
As the sun began to set on that day of sadness and commemoration, the flags took a deep breath and returned to their full height. They joined the celebratory evening prayers remembering — I am sure — the silver platter upon which these prayers were brought.
On Israel’s Independence Day, the flags danced in the streets. They adorned hats and pins, cupcakes and plates. They listened with awe at the International Bible Contest, showcasing the Book of Books. They smelled of smoke and of spices from the myriad of barbecues hosted by Israelis with roots in Yemen, Morocco, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Iran, the United States, and countless other countries. And then the flag was sullied and saddened by the events in a park in Elad.
It was the week after Independence Day that I noticed that many flags began to come down – from the porches, from the buildings and from the cars. Yet, there were many places that they remained. They still lined the streets upon which we traveled – reminding us of from where we have come and leading us to where we are destined to go.
I am heartened that the flags are here to accompany us for at least one more week as we stand with joy and gratitude to celebrate Yom Yerushalayim.
In his autobiography, With Might and Strength, Rav Shlomo Goren, z”l, the first chief rabbi of the IDF, describes the first flag to adorn the newly reunified city of Jerusalem.
“During the liberation of Jerusalem there was no flag to hang on David’s Citadel. A Jewish family from England lived nearby, and the wife gave a white sheet to the soldiers and told them they could draw a Star of David on it. At first this improvised flag was hung on David’s Citadel and after several hours it was taken down and hung on the tank that would be the first to enter Hebron and reach the Cave of the Patriarchs” (With Might and Strength, pg. 341). Eventually, it was that flag that was hung above the newly liberated Cave of the Patriarchs.
As the flags come down in the days to come, I will think of Rav Goren’s soldiers hastily drawing a flag to signify a nation, a place and a moment. I will be reminded that, while there is so much beauty and strength in the flag, pristine and clean, now waving outside my window, it is only there because for generations it has been tucked inside our hearts and lovingly drawn with blue and white paint, scraps of fabric and dreams.
My dear flag, you have earned your rest so I will let you go for now. May we meet again in peace next year.