The 11th Floor

A Perpsective Overlooking Jerusalem, Israeli Life, and Talmud Torah

Monday, April 30, 2007

"V'af al pi sheyitmameiha, im kol zeh ani ma'amin"

What would you do if you only had one Sunday afternoon for the whole year? For those who live in the US and Canada, it's a strange exercise. What would you do if you only had one afternoon with no fixed obligations, no set schedule and no musaf? How would you handle it?

Welcome to Yom Ha'atzmaut, friends, the only Sunday on the Israeli Calendar.

There are plenty of Yomei Rishon, but that aint Sunday, folks. Yes, Thursday night/Friday morning here has some vague connection to Saturday night/Sunday morning overseas, but like a joint initiative in congress, the link is tenuous. When you finish brunch at your milchig restaurant in Manhattan on Sunday morning, you can go anywhere- at least until the kids are out of Hebrew school. When you finish brunch in your swanky Jerusalem eatery, you have Shabbat to think about. And don't start with the "Chilonim don't have Shabbat" crap. Over 2/3rds of Chiloni households still have some form of dinner *With Kiddush* on Friday nights. It might not be legitimate in the eyes of the Moetzet, but then again, in their eyes, neither is anyone who is not a) dressed only in black and white, b) supporter of Degel-Hatorah and c) a man. So even those who don't identify as dati still have Shabbat. And that means Shuk, Makolet, Doar, cooking, cleaning, and snacks for the kaduregel game after dinner.

As Judy Balint put it, "It's the one day in the year that feels like a Sunday. Pure recreation with no major religious obligations. No newspapers, banks or mail to take the mind off the all-important task of finding the best place to set up the portable barbecue."

Many people talk about the switch from Yom Ha’zikaron to Yom Ha’atzmaut. It is startling- mournful music on the radio evaporates and all of the sudden, its all classic hits, all the time. It is hard to imagine people can manage it- my ulpan teacher no longer has big parties. She and her husband spend the day at home- they’ve lost too many to go out and have a celebration. The number of people who feel that way, she tells me, is growing. Others still try to plunge from grief into celebration. For those who say hallel at night, it may be one key to transitioning. Starting with Ma'ariv and the Amidah can out one in a place where one can make an attempt at the inner work of packing away all the pain and loss that has been set out for the day, and Hallel can help bring a bit of joy back to the psychological forefront. That being said, I feel as if the party and the show are for kids and tourists, and the real Yom Ha’atzmaut is a day spent trying to rein in the grief and bitterness that is given reign to express itself the day before.

Of course, Israel is a country where patience is not a virtue (there has yet to be an Israeli Ieyasu Tokugawa), so profound mourning followed by fireworks at night and cooking over fire by day is not so incomprehensible. Maybe the shock of the transition is what lets Israelis be so relaxed and less cynical for the day. These classic happy songs of Israel that you hear on Yom ha’atmaut are normally poo-pooed the way a rock critic derides "Frampton Comes Alive.” Suddenly, these same songs are on the lips of those same people who the week before were calling them "anachronistic leftovers from an era of naiveté and groupthink." It is Israeli society gone crazy! Gone are the faces with hard edges, the grim glances, the impatience the aggressive driving- okay, the drivers are still nuts with honking and speeding uphill the wrong way, but the rest is gone. Romantics blossom for the day, and people bloom with love for their country. Its like the drunk guys at the bar. You know them- the macho guys who during their first game of pool were making the bartender make sure the shotgun under the vodka bottles was loaded. Suddenly they are now all leaning on each other's shoulders, say "I love you, man!"

Erev Yom Ha’atzmaut, we saw pre-teens roaming town unescorted, shaving cream in hand to spray targets immobile (stores) and mobile (everyone around them). There are two groups of parents who would never let this happen back home; the safety conscious, who would fear for their children's safety, and the good parents, who know that unsupervised teenagers are agents of mayhem, Satan, and the Republican party. In Israel, they are let loose by two groups of parents, those who belive that Israel is a safe country for kids to roam about in, and those who would never say no to their kids.

Yom Ha’atzmaut was picture perfect. Idyllic. Warm. Cobalt edged Turquoise skies. The scent of grilling meat was aloft. We hit three different BBQ's, and we could have gone to many more. The Americans finished with… well, they didn't really, they just kept eating. The Israelis, by contrast, put the leftovers away, brought out halvah, coffee, Turkish delight, and of course, a hookah.

Passover in Israel is remarkable because of the products and being part of the majority culture. Yom Kippur is so very moving because of the lack of traffic and the socializing that takes place after synagogue. But these days are not purely unique in Jewish experience; one can have intense spirituality and moving community moments outside of Israel. But Yom Ha’atzmaut is different in Israel- not because of the mangal, not because of the fireworks and flags, and not because of the parties. In Israel, grief tempers the joy. The most amazing celebrations are those held in the kitchen of a family that has lost an uncle and a son, or a mother to terror, and yet… and yet they still try and celebrate. A part of them still echoes the Hatikvah, dreaming of being a free people in the land.


Blogger ollka said...

just to acknowledge my presence - i'm here, i'm reading your blog, enjoying it thoroughly. here's a link to a highly amusing picture:
just because we talked about star wars today.
thanks again for the visit:)

6:08 PM  

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