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Op-eds

Remembering the past, living in the present, hoping for the future

  • BenitaLevin
A haunting siren echoes throughout the country. It’s a loud, deep, eerie sound that can be heard along the width and breadth of Israel each year, at 10:00 on Yom Hashoah, the Day of Remembrance.
by BENITA LEVIN | Apr 19, 2018

The country literally comes to a standstill. Cars on the highways stop and drivers get out, stand in the streets, lower their heads and remember. Moving ceremonies at schools, varsities and the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem come to a halt, as people of all ages stop and listen. Our television newsroom came to a standstill as Jewish, Arab, Christian and atheist colleagues stopped typing – and broadcasting – to observe two minutes’ silence in memory of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

No matter where you are in the country – or what you are doing – you stop, listen and remember.

It is surreal, devastating and deeply moving to hear the sirens bellowing across the country. Even though you know it’s about to happen, it awakens a stark, and dark, reminder of where we have come from. You can feel the pain around you, especially when you look at some of the older men and women nearby.

This year, I was struck by how young children responded to the sirens. During a school remembrance ceremony, primary school pupils immediately stopped, looked down and went silent. As teachers, mothers, fathers and grandparents wiped away tears, I wondered how much these young children understood, and if we are doing enough to adequately explain our nation’s devastating past.

The sirens sound like a shofar, almost a call to remember.

While I wasn’t sure how much the younger children could understand about this tragic, dehumanising and incomprehensible part of our history, they certainly seemed moved by the sounds, and the accompanying silence.

From mourning to celebration… the cycle of life.

Just days later, the country celebrates its 70th birthday. The celebrations start on Independence Day – Yom Ha’atzmaut – but this is just the beginning. The streets of Ra’anana are already lined with flags and banners marking this major milestone.

The start of the 70th festivities will happen straight after Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) – the day the country remembers its fallen heroes and victims of terror.

And so, again, the country moves from a sombre time of sadness and remembrance – from sunset on April 17 this year to sunset on April 18, into a period of joy, simcha and hope for the future, at sunset on April 18.

It always makes me smile when these celebrations include invitations to braais (better knowns as barbecues here), after the annual Air Force fly-over, which most families flock to the beaches to watch together.

Of course, all of this is happening at a very worrying time for the region. Tensions are high after the US, France and Britain attacked Syrian bases this past weekend, in response to a recent chemical attack in Douma. The US says it is “locked and loaded” in the event of any other chemical attacks in the future.

Before that, Israel was accused of targeting a T-4 military base in Syria. The country doesn’t comment on such attacks, but Iran is vowing revenge.

The war rhetoric continues, and so does life here.

Schools have conducted their regular bomb shelter drills, in case the next sirens we hear are warning of imminent rockets. We have heard friends talking about making sure that their bomb shelters are clean.

At the same time, people are talking about their upcoming plans, where they are celebrating the country’s 70th birthday and what parties are being organised to mark the big day. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learnt about living in this country, people remember the past, they live in the present and they hope for the future.

Word of the week

Mamad – enclosed bomb shelter, often in a basement or a room in a home.

Tekes – ceremony

Smile of the week – searching for a bakery on the night Pesach ended and finding our favourite spot churning out fresh rolls and pastries at midnight.

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