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The honey and the sting

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You may be familiar with a famous Hebrew song which speaks of “all these things, the honey – and the sting”. It’s the perfect explanation of life in Israel – the bitter and the sweet.

It has been more than seven months of agony, but it feels like years. I don’t remember life before 7 October, and I don’t think most people do either. There’s 7/10, and life before that, which is blurred and fuzzy. We’re not the same people who went to sleep on 6 October. We never will be again. How could we be?

This year, the national holidays in Israel had a distinctly different tone. They are sacred days, filled with sorrow and dread. Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) in the shadow of 7/10 was poignant and difficult. The images of our brothers and sisters burnt to ash or herded onto the back of trucks and taken away as well as the raw, unbridled hatred that fuelled the attack was reminiscent of the experiences of our ancestors.

After 7 October, many of us pondered how we would cope on Yom Hazikaron. It was a day of agony. We knew this day was coming. We tried to prepare ourselves for it but in truth, there was no preparation for the tear in the soul as that first siren wailed its mournful cry across the country. Israel came to a complete standstill and wept for the 25 040 fallen and 5 100 victims of terror throughout our history. The siren shattered me as I stood sentinel on my balcony. It shattered us all.

We mourn our sons and daughters of Zion, the human and the canine, and just after the horrific atrocities of 7 October, the grief is still raw. The passage of time may have moved on, but for us in Israel, every day is 7 October. The freshly covered graves increase, and we agonise over the 132 souls still held hostage in the terror tunnels of Gaza. For many families who have lost their loved ones, every day is Yom Hazikaron.

I thought of the orphans, the widows, the parents, the siblings, the grandparents, the partners, the friends, the families, and the loved ones.

The sacred days of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut were purposefully meant to follow one another. They are a stark reminder of the massive price that we have and continue to pay to live as a free people in our land. The price of freedom is high, but it’s one that however painful, we’re willing to pay.

The transition from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha’atzmaut is an emotional whiplash as we move from sorrow to celebration, but this year, it was significantly more subdued. How can we celebrate when we’re at war? When our sons are paying the ultimate price? How can we celebrate when 132 souls aren’t with us but held captive? Gone were the fireworks, in a nod of respect not only to the situation, but our soldiers experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. The annual flyover, the most highly anticipated event in the calendar, was cancelled.

Yom Ha’atzmaut was a day spent in quiet thanksgiving for the miracle that is the state of Israel, our haven in our ancestral homeland. The rising tide of antisemitism threatening to engulf our communities around the world weighs heavily on our minds. We’re watching with alarm and horror as it manifests itself in this latest vicious iteration of anti-Zionism.

I believe our collective trauma has bonded us more strongly to the land and to each other. Inside every one of us is the strength and defiance in the face of hatred that the generations before us have endured. Today we have a state, a home to call our own with a vibrant, resilient people and a strong army. We are, as the government YouTube media released in time for Yom Ha’atzmaut states, an extraordinary people living in an extraordinary land. We must never lose sight of this.

The story of Israel, of the Jewish people, is written perfectly in the lines of the song Al kol ele (Of all these things). Our story is of the dvash ve oketz (the honey and the sting), the bitter and the sweet. This year, we’ve experienced the bitter, may we soon experience the sweet.

May the memories of all we have lost be eternally blessed. May they rest in the holiest of heavenly places. May we continue to write our next chapters in the story of the Jewish people, redeemed in our land. Am Yisrael Chai.

  • Rolene Marks is a Middle East commentator often heard on radio and TV, and is the co-founder of Lay of the Land and the SA-Israel Policy Forum.

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