The excitement leading up to Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day) celebrations here is palpable. Flags and banners start appearing all over and naturally the kids have much preparation at school. In the week before though, we commemorate the Holocaust and remember the victims. It's true that we have "won" in the sense that we, the next generations, are still here, but of course we also lost. And we lost big. And they don't pull any punches in teaching the children about it. I was raised by the children of survivors, so the Holocaust was always present when I was growing up. It was something of a family joke that we could depend on our father to mention Auschwitz or the Nazis at every family gathering, including the happy occasions. He certainly never forgot. But--and I could be wrong-- I don't think most of my friends had the same experience.
On the other hand, kids here start hearing about the Holocaust in Kindergarten through stories, but A learned things in first grade that made her cry. I'm not arguing that she can conceptualize what happened, but really who can? It's so horrifically unfathomable. Growing up here it becomes part of their consciousness from earliest memories. A week later is Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) for fallen Israeli soldiers and victims of terror. This day purposefully falls the day before Yom Haatzmaut. I've heard some argue that it's not right to make such a sudden transition from such sadness to such joy, and that it hurts them to see the celebrations right after the commemoration for their loved ones, but I can see how it works to have it that way. Memorial day is a very somber and hard day. The whole nation marks it, with ceremonies, stores closing and two one-minute sirens where even cars pull over and the drivers get out, and everyone wherever you are, stops and bows their head. It's a hard day for the nation. It would be impossible to grow up here and not be aware of the sacrifice that others have made for our privilege. A has been taking care of one of her dolls who was "shot" while in the Army and was "saved at the Army hospital" but now requires full time care. It registers.
On Yom Haatzmaut I took the kids to a free festival about 25 minutes from our house. Michael had to work so I teamed up with another mom whose husband was working. But in the car it was just me and the kids, and about 12 minutes into our drive we passed through a check-point over the "infamous" green line. In the weeks building up to Yom Haatzmaut, flags for your car appear out of nowhere. So as we passed the checkpoint I started wondering if it was such a good idea to be driving along with an Israeli flag flying on my car. Like a target. I mean, we have Israeli license plates so it's not like we're driving through anonymously, but in the moment I started to feel nervous. The kids are not immune. It doesn't take them long to figure out that all the guards (in front of their school, entrance to the mall, entrance to parking lots etc.) are to "make sure bad guys with bombs don't come in". So as I started discussing with them whether perhaps we should take the flag down while driving through this area, I lowered the window and the flag flew away. I felt like a traitor, and then I noticed that every 10 kilometers or so there were soldiers standing on the hilltops. Clearly there was a need. N remarked "One day in a few years that will be me standing on the hill guarding our nation." To which L replied, "No N, we don't want you to die." So was I wrong to want to take the flag down while driving in my own country?
Well, a couple of days later a close friend called to tell me about her Yom Haatzmaut. They had been invited to join Israeli cousins on a guided tour near the Kotel (Western Wall). The bus driver took a "wrong turn" into East Jerusalem, and as he tried to turn around to leave, several young children were positioned in the road to block the bus and force it to stop, and then a group of men ambushed my friend's bus. They attacked the bus with metal bars, smashing the windows and sending broken glass flying inside, and throwing rocks.
I work hard not to divide the world into "us" and "them" for all of the obvious reasons, but how can "we" negotiate with people who purposefully put their small children in harm's way and want their children to witness this type of brutality? Fortunately, the only physical injuries to the families on the bus were some facial lacerations, but the unseen marks were left. Their young son kept screaming "why do they want to kill us?" After a harrowing few minutes soldiers arrived and evacuated them. If you're thinking that you didn't hear about it on the news because you're reading this from outside of Israel, it wasn't on our news either. Not sure why.
It turns out the scariest part of the day for me was when we arrived and I had to park the car. After almost 3 years, I'm completely down with makeshift parking lots. It's often like going to a country fair and parking in fields. What I wasn't prepared for was being asked to reverse into a spot that ended in a precipice with a sharp drop. I don't have specific phobias, but since I respect a good incline and I prefer to drive forward, I refused. No problem. The guard told me to just drive to the end and "find something". Fortunately, two soldiers were able to move a couple of plastic chairs that were in the place of a perfectly good parking spot and all was well. The kids had a great time. There were so many activities to do, but the kids did note the prevalence of men in street clothes carrying guns. When you drive past huge red signs that tell you that it is illegal to enter and that if you do your life will be in danger, it should not come as a surprise that in the areas next door where you can turn in, you might need protection.