Lights in the Distance

Observations and musings regarding new mommyhood and life in general.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Sirens and Barbecues...

I cannot think of a moment during which I feel more proud to be an Israeli than when the sirens sound on Memorial Day for Israel's Fallen Soldiers. Year after year, siren after siren, I am awed by the thought of millions of Israelis standing together in silence as we collectively reflect on the sacrifices made by the young men and women who gave their lives trying to protect our country. No matter where we are, no matter what we are doing, we stop to remember. Workers stop working, pedestrians stop walking, drivers stop driving. Words simply cannot describe the rush of feelings at taking part in something so powerful.

Growing up in the United States, I cannot remember anything special about Memorial Day. For those whose lives had not been touched by the loss of a loved one, it was even a day to look forward to. A lazy three-day weekend, the unofficial start to Summer activities, outrageous sales in the shops. In short, nothing that expressed the true significance of the day. It was just another day off. In Israel, it is a day to reflect, a day to remember, and there is no escape. Places of entertainment are closed, all local channels dedicate their programming to the personal stories of the fallen, and you cannot help but to sit there, allowing yourself to be drawn in to the collapsed worlds of those left behind. Even the local children's channel shows age-appropriate programming, to show the children how other children have coped with the loss of a loved one. The radio stations also take part, putting aside all regular features, playing quiet, often haunting songs of loss. Public transport services are extended to ferry people to memorial ceremonies throughout the country, ensuring that the needs of the bereaved are met. You cannot help but feel that on this day, you are part of something special, no longer a country of individuals, but a nation made up of one family, mourning the losses of our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, fathers and mothers together.

As the sun sets on Memorial Day, Israel once again proves itself to be a country of extremes. The flag is raised to its full height from half-mast and the somber mood of the past 24 hours becomes one of exhilaration, as Israel rushes headlong into Independence Day celebrations. We watch the traditional torchlighting ceremony broadcast from Jerusalem as fireworks fill the skies. Israel's towns and cities try to outdo each other with local festivities, and the streets are filled with the laughter of people playing and dancing, through all hours of the night. I've never been one for the crowds, and we happily sat outside, chatting with neighbors, barbecuing and racing around to different spots on our porch, looking for the best vantage points from which to catch the fireworks (while occasionally coming into the house to check on the poor dog, who is definitely not a fan of fireworks, and spends most of the evening hiding in either the bathtub or the shower, shaking like a leaf).

Independence Day itself is just one big, collective barbecue, as Israelis leave their homes at the crack of dawn in search of the perfect spot for cooking up enough meat to feed a small, third-world country for about a year. We drive up to my sister-in-law in Haifa, and once we enter the city, I look on in wonder at the people and the grills that take up every available blade of grass, whether it be in parks, along the side of the road, or even on some of the wider traffic islands. We drove with the windows open, and by the time we reached our destination, I felt like I'd already eaten, so strong were the smells of all the barbecues we passed along the way. No need to worry, though, I was certainly able to hold my own when the food came out, despite the fact that it was my second barbecue in less than 24 hours. The wonders of the pregnant woman's appetite...

Today, life has returned to normal, aside from the plate-full of leftover barbecued kebab in the fridge (I polished off the remaining vegetable skewers last night), which I suspect we will finish before the end of the week. Another Memorial Day and Independence day have come and gone and my patriotism and cynicism levels have returned to their pre-holiday levels, as I read about the 500 tons of garbage left behind after the entire country spent the day outside yesterday. It doesn't escape my notice that bringing up the topic of garbage would be an excellent segue to the subject of the trials and tribulations of our government, and especially the escapades and scandals of Ariel Sharon and his family, but frankly, I'm just too tired, and cannot summon up the energy that such a topic so richly deserves. Besides, my husband is in the kitchen doing something interesting with leftover barbecued kebab and a bunch of tomatoes...


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