Days to remember, celebrate in Israel

By Vicki Oren

This is the week we in Israel remember.

We remember the six million who, perished in the Holocaust, we remember the soldiers who died defending the country, we remember the citizens killed in terrorist attacks. 

We then switch over in a matter of seconds to celebrate the Independence Day of our country. 

There is not a person in this country who does now know first-hand a Holocaust survivor or story, who does not know first or second hand a family of a fallen soldier and terrorist victim. We are a little country and so connected by family, marriage, friends, work colleagues, etc., that it is impossible not to know one or more. The stories are shared and documented and there is no TV for these days of remembrance. Only the songs and stories and memories put to film are shown. 

What other country…entire country…comes to a standstill? Cars, buses and trucks pull over and people stand beside their car. No one speaks on cell phones, trains stop, airplanes do not take off, the stock exchange shuts down — total silence for the two-minute sirens that ring around the whole country on both Holocaust and Memorial Day. 

It is a surreal experience that is part of the Israeli experience. It is in the DNA of every Israeli. And then, when Memorial Day ends, the fireworks, dancing, eating, drinking begins. 

Joyous celebrations all over the country. Release of the sadness, the dark memories and celebration of life. I live on a kibbutz. 

We have our own Holocaust ceremony and Memorial Day and Independence Day events, stories, ceremonies. The kibbutz is a living microcosm of life in Israel. We have Holocaust survivors, children of the Holocaust who do not know their families, we have 13 fallen soldiers from our kibbutz, from missions with the Jewish Brigade in WWII, the Independence War, the Yom Kippur War and a young kibbutz son who fell in the last Gaza War – Zuk Eitan in 2014.  

We are not exempt from what happens all over Israel. It happens in our small community too. We live among multi-generational families, some who are integral in the establishment of Israel. We have babies born and members pass away. 

We have “Lone Soldiers” and nursing home. 

For me, having lived now 2/3 of my life here and having grown a family of 3 sons and 7 grandchildren, and 2 sons still in the army reserves, this is our reality, way of life. At this time of year I feel the Circle of life touching us all in every fabric of our existence.  

This is the Israel I chose to stay and live in and raise a family in. At the time I was naive enough to believe we would have peace by the time my future children would reach the age of 18. I now know for certainty that my grandchildren will also defend this country. Israelis know how to cry and mourn and share the sorrow and in a flip of the switch go to laughing, dancing, celebrating.  

The flags are decorating the entire country. Blue and white. Air Force fly-overs. And of course the mangal – the Israeli barbecue. Our cemetery is part of the history of the nation and our kibbutz. Our children visit the cemetery from kindergarten age. We do not wear black. People come to the Ceremonies to honor the fallen straight from work, the cows, the fields, the school, as part of the day, then return to their work place or classroom. Life goes on…It is this time of year, for me, that I feel the essence of being and living in Israel. I wish our country a peaceful and prosperous 69th year. 

 Vicki Oren is a former St. Louisan who lives in Kibbutz Ginnegar near Haifa.