In 1981, I spent a year in Israel at Machon Greenberg, a school in Jerusalem that trained teachers of Hebrew as a second language. I had finished the course to be an elementary school teacher in conjunction with high school, in the Jewish Day School I attended. We started in South American time, in February, and were experiencing the changing of seasons and the rhythms of Israeli life. Then the 4th day of the Hebrew month of Yiar came, and Jerusalem was quiet. The eerie silence that followed the 8:00pm siren and the atmosphere full of sadness was quite disturbing to all of us who were from the diaspora. We then learned the meaning of Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, in Israel. Everyone in Israel, to this day, is affected by a loss during one of the wars or through terrorist attacks. We heard testimonies from soldiers and family members who shared memories of their loved ones that perished in one of the wars. It felt like the whole country had an enormous collective wound that could only be adequately expressed through collective mourning. The air was filled with the longing and the fallen tears of a country that had experienced unimaginable grief and sorrow. By the time the 2 minute siren happened at 11:00am, I understood what was happening and stood outside of our campus looking, with a heavy heart, at the Old City.
As the sun started to set and the day was ending, my classmates and I started walking to the downtown area. The mood was beginning to lighten. When it was dark, and the 5th of Yiar came, the city erupted in a wild celebration. Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, was beginning, and people were celebrating and enjoying a great time. I was used to Carnaval celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, so I recognized the joy and gayety I was experiencing. There was music, dancing, drinking, it was a great party. I remember vividly the confetti and the little plastic hammers which squeaked as people (gently, in my experience) hit each other, laughing, inviting one another to share in the joy and the pride of a people collectively savoring their achievements. It was an absolute delight, an unforgettable moment.
I since have experienced Yom HaAtzmaut in Israel once more, yet that experience was unique. Going from a palpable deep sorrow to an equally tangible elation is still a mysterious process for me, yet sharpened my understanding that for Israel, and for all of us who love her deeply, the feelings are always intermingled – joy that follows sorrow, pride in accomplishments that come at a huge emotional cost, opposing feelings that create a multi-dimensional country and people.
As I share this recollection to you, we are in the midst of the 4th day of the month of Yiar. As evening falls and we get to the 5th of Yiar, we will be celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut. The pattern of intermingled joy and sorrow is repeating itself in Israel, even as people will not have visited the homes of their fallen companions, and will not be dancing in the streets, during this pandemic. We, who will not be joining in person to commemorate and celebrate, can follow the example of Israel and embrace the multi-dimensional nature of the nation and the people we love. The complexity of feelings helps us see the world beyond sharp contrasts, and hold in our hearts the pride and the costs, the joy and the sorrow, all the things that makes our relationship with Israel complex and rewarding.
Rabbi Lia Bass