Last week, on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, I drove from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I flicked on the radio – Gal gal gal galgalatz – and for the next hour, I found myself listening to an interview with Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, and Rabbi Benny Lau, his nephew. They spoke about their relationship to the Holocaust, in which Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau’s entire family was murdered, with the exclusion of his brother, Naftali, z”l, Rabbi Benny Lau’s father, who recently passed away. They spoke about the decimation of their family at the hands of the Nazis’ bezerk and systematic genocide, about trauma, about confusion and God and gratitude. And it was beautiful, and moving. I felt immensely appreciative for this day in which there is a conscious, directed effort for the entire collective to bear witness to these stories of incomprehensible suffering, to share in the burden mourning, so that, perhaps, those for whom the mourning is an every-day or every-minute endeavor can find some measure of respite. Yehuda Amichai:
Let the memorial hill remember instead of me, that's what it's here for... Let all of them remember so that I can rest.
During the siren on Yom HaShoah, I stood silently, and tried to open space in my heart to take in as much a raw and heavy and consuming mourning of the Holocaust as it could take in.
The next week, this week, on Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers, I attended the Combatants for Peace ceremony, in which bereaved Israelis and bereaved Palestinians spoke of their loss to a crowd of thousands, mostly Israelis in Tel Aviv (this is, after all, an Israeli holiday, and there is, after all, still an occupation that decides whether or not to permit Palestinians to come into Tel Aviv, even if they’d wanted to do so). There, as in years past, I let the words of mourning wash over me, tried to imagine their anger and sorrow, couldn’t do so for too long, listened and learned.
The next morning, as the siren sounded, my thoughts were not about all of the victims of this conflict, but rather specifically focused on the Israeli soldiers killed. And that felt OK. There is room to hold it all, and there is space for separate moments of mourning, as well as joint ones. I thought of all of the beautiful human beings whose lives were ended so early. I felt part of the collective, for a moment. Even if I disagree with most of my compatriots about the justness of Israel’s recent wars; even if I disagree with my compatriots about the morality of the military, I stand with my compatriots, with a full heart, mourning the soldiers who have been killed, and I stand fully with my compatriots in hoping that we reach a day in which more soldiers do not have to die.
An excerpt from a stunning guest piece this past summer by a friend, Elazar Weiss, called The Orange Tree:
”A sweet, charming kid who’s grandmother lives next door to your parents. You have an orange tree in the garden, but don’t have energy to pick the fruit. He comes every year to pick them. At the end of the day, he knocks on your door, and with a bashful smile, gives you a bag full of that year’s harvest. You remember the last time you saw him — two years ago, in the middle of your finals. You were sealed away in a bunker, studying for a test that then seemed like a matter of life or death. There was a knock on your door, and you got irritated that someone was bothering you. You opened the door (in boxers, of course) and muttered a quick thanks, which today strikes you as too cold and distant a response. But who knew then what would happen today…”
Then today. Yom HaAtzmaut. Israeli Independence Day, 2015. In past years, my ability to enter the mourning of Yom HaZikaron and even Yom HaShoah was tainted by my recognition of the ways in which they are connected to the Israeli State’s self-worship – a cynical take would say, even, that they are lead-ups to today’s climax, national mourning in order to solidify nationalism. I didn’t feel that this year, though. I didn’t feel cynical. I felt truly able to really mourn. So when Yom HaAtzmaut hit this year – with saccharine blow up hammers and militaristic overtones – I was struck by a thought.
Yom HaAtzmaut should be a third day of national mourning.
I can’t celebrate today. That is not to say that I can’t find things to celebrate about the country of Israel. I can. I love the Hebrew language, and health care system is a wonderful pocket of decency, and the people here, above all: I so dearly love the people here.
But Independence? Liberation? Freedom?
Israel of 2015 is so far from being independent, liberated or free. Our enslavement is different than in generations past: now we are enslaved by our new role as oppressors, or as indifferent bystanders as others suffer in ways we did before.
There should be a siren today, and we should take a moment to commemorate the Nakba, and its extensions today in places like Sheikh Jarrah and Susiya and Al Araqib and Shuja’iyya and yes, also Yarmouk.
We should take a moment to commemorate the African asylum seekers who fled here to escape genocide, only to find themselves jailed, facing hardened hearts, and in some cases, sent away to their deaths in the desert.
We should mourn the fact that we are not and cannot be independent, liberated or free as long as occupation and oppression flourish here.