There is a moment that occurs once a year in Israel. The entire country focuses on it, there is even an official, national ceremony to recognize it – the momentous yet somehow quiet transition between Memorial Day for IDF soldiers & victims of terrorism to Independence Day.
Jewish tradition dictates that each day begins the night before. This means that at the end of the day spent focusing on the grief of the bereaved, remembering the lives of those that died to protect the nation (or because they are part of the nation), when night falls, it becomes necessary to transition to the subject of the following day – celebrating our independence.
One day follows the other with mindfulness, the juxtaposition is purposeful. Both terribly difficult and terribly important. We must never forget that one does not exist without the other. Independence is gained only through unspeakable sacrifice. There is no real seam between the two days. There is no break where it becomes possible to stop grieving and begin celebrating because the grief does not end, the loss cannot be filled and it is a price we are forced to pay over and over.
And yet, celebrate we must. That is also part of honoring those who sacrificed so that we may live – we must LIVE.
This is why the national Independence Day celebrations begin with the flag at half-mast and a prayer for the dead. Then in an almost overlooked transition, the flag is raised and extraordinary Israelis are honored for their contribution to society. It’s not bombastic. Words or pyrotechnics cannot possibly capture the essence of the miracle of Israel and her people. It is this modest moment that encapsulates the pure essence of what Israel is.
Each year different people are honored. In our tiny nation there is no shortage of extraordinary people. Last year Israeli trailblazers were honored. This year the theme was “civilian heroes” (as opposed to military heroes). What people! These are just a few of the examples:
Hertzel Biton, a 57 year old bus driver who, although severely wounded himself, stopped a terrorist, preventing him from hurting others.
Husband and wife who, each on their own, chose to donate a kidney to a stranger, for no benefit, just because they could.
Rona Ramon who lost both her husband Ilan Ramon when the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded and her son Asaf who died in an IAF training accident. Simply managing to continue living after such a devastating double loss is a huge accomplishment but that is not why Rona was honored. She was honored because she transformed her grief in to something positive and empowering via the Ramon Foundation, dedicated to instilling in children the traits held by both Ilan and Asaf: academic excellence, social leadership and groundbreaking daring.
The whole world is forced to recognize Israeli accomplishments. Like it or not, they are everywhere. The modern world would not be what it is without Israeli innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity.
On the other hand, the world is very successful in ignoring the other side of the Israeli miracle. It is true that Israel is astonishing in what she has achieved. It would be easy to declare Israeli accomplishments astounding on their own but Israel surpasses even that, reaching the level of miraculous, because the achievements come in contrast to the odds set against us.
It is easy to lay down and die. People like Herztel Biton chose instead to fight, not for himself, but to protect others. Countless other Israelis have done exactly the same, he was just an example chosen amongst many. Rona Ramon could have easily drowned in her grief. Instead she chose to use the example of her loved ones to lead other children to excellence.
Each person honored during the ceremony has their own story of overcoming barriers, refusing to succumb, excelling against all odds. And they are just a sampling, an example of the entire Nation of Israel.
It is easy to say that the transition between Memorial Day and Independence Day is the most Israeli moment of the year. It is impossible to truly comprehend what that means without recognizing the unspeakable Israeli moment. That moment the world so loves to ignore.
This is the moment every Israeli family dreads. This is the moment every Israeli family knows could come knocking at their door. Literally. This moment has occurred in 23,447 Israeli households. A relative, a friend, an acquaintance….not a single person in the country has been left untouched.
“Families have been notified” is a laconic sentence used to describe an unspeakable moment. Please watch this video and think about it.
It would be easier to wallow in grief. To give up, lay down and die. But we don’t do that. This is the moment Israelis rise above.