The 11th Floor

A Perpsective Overlooking Jerusalem, Israeli Life, and Talmud Torah

Friday, April 27, 2007

Try it- you won't like it.

Americans marvel at Yom Hazikaron – but we don’t want to have a day like it. Close stores and restaurants early? No theatres for 24 hours? No cafes? A near-obligatory nationwide moment of remembrance? We couldn't even make "Hands Across America" work. Getting everyone to stop for a second? Both sides of the political spectrum would complain:
The Right wing would complain about the limiting of free enterprise, the socialist overtones of the idea, and would demand the sirens be turned into a minute of prayer.
The Left wing would complain about the limiting of free speech and religion, the fascist overtones of the idea, and would demand the sirens be turned into a minute of interpretive dance to protest the war in Iraq.

Hence, the US has a memorial day that can only make us cry if we find out the clothes we wanted to buy are not on sale for %50 off, rather just %25. Only our veterans and citizens in uniform give a damn about the day in a manner with any emotional content. They deserve better, but Americans don't want Yom Hazikaron, impressed with it though we may be. We like our sales and day off of school, and we are quite happy not thinking about the soldiers who have died with the Stars and Stripes on their uniform- not even those who fought in the "good wars."

Can you imagine HBO having nothing on for 24 hours on memorial day? Long Island alone would riot and burst into flames. Yet in Israel, the radio, TV, even cable in Israel are behaving as if the day means something. Movies and kids programs are related to the day, and sad mellow songs are all that is on the radio. True, most people in the US don't even know someone who has served or is serving in the Armed Forces. In Israel, almost everyone knows someone who has been killed in action, and with every new war that "almost" gets smaller and smaller.

The numbers work against the US having a powerful and emotional day. But since most universities teach that patriotism is always questionable, the numbers aren't really the problem anymore. They teach the flaws of our founding fathers, and place their virtues in the trash can. Nobody can get away with saying "This is what it means to be an American" anymore. If you can’t say what Americans have in common, then you can’t have a day to honor those with the goal of defending that commonality.

And what does it mean to be Israeli? My guess knowing that even a person who is lucky enough to say "I have never lost anyone from among those who served in the IDF", will get out of their car when that siren sounds, stand at attention, and be still for the moment has something to do with it. Dalia Itzik has antoher part of it. During her speech at the Kotel which marked the start of the day, she said "Tonight, Israel weeps...We have no words of comfort, but we embrace you, the families, with endless love." Her own words? Perhaps, but she presented the fact that the sacrifice is understood. There are other parts as well, some based in the struggles of building a state, others in facing political and religious divides. To experience Yom Ha’zikaron is to gain insight into these and other aspects of what it means to be an Israeli.

There is nothing wrong with the fact we Americans want to shop and have fun on our memorial day; the shame is that we would not know what to say to the family of someone who died in service of the USA if given the chance. There was a time when Americans understood the small flags with gold and blue or silver stars that hung in front windows of homes across the country. How sad that there are more of those flags starting to appear again these days; how sad that those few that are in use are no longer understood. And in the state of Israel… in Israel there is no special flag for having a loved one in the service or lost in action; the flag of Israel is that flag for all families.


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