Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Yom Ha'Atzmaut

We have just finished commemorating what many consider the high holidays of the secular Israeli calendar - Yom HaShoah is the remembrance day for victims of the Holocaust, Yom HaZikaron is the remembrance day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, and the day after Yom HaZikaron, Israelis celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, Independance Day.
Our commemoration of Yom HaZikaron/Yom HaAtzmaut began the day before the holidays, when we attended a dress rehearsal for the national event to commemorate the ending of Yom Hazikaron and the beginning of Yom HaAtzmaut. It was a huge affair - we arrived at Mt. Herzl hours in advance to take our seats amidst an excited crowd. Much of the ceremony consisted of soldiers marching impressively carrying various flags, as well as a long torch-lighting ceremony in which people from different sectors of Israeli society lit torches to represent the 12 tribes of Israel, and a host of dancers. We took many pictures and have posted them online - please take a look! (Incidentally, the other photos in the album are from a game-show themed event that Daniel planned for HUC)
I spent the morning of Yom HaZikaron with the preschool, and aside from the kids standing still when a siren sounded through the city to signal a moment of silence, the atmosphere was celebratory in preparation for Independance Day - the kids left the preschool early so they could nap well in order to stay up to see the fireworks. My favorite conversation of the morning linked the celebration of Israel's independance with a discussion of how independant the preschoolers are becoming - some can even go to the bathroom by themselves!
We spent the afternoon at an orientation for the Encounter program we're attending tomorrow and Friday - you'll for sure be reading about this in a few days, but suffice it to say, for now, that we will be participating in a program in which we will have an opportunity to hear Palestinian perspectives on Israeli politics and on peace.
In the evening, beginning around 9pm, we heard the fireworks and scuttled out of our apartment. Walking toward the noise and music, we ran into a woman that we know from the Israeli Reform congregation we frequent, and we spoke to her about Independance Day and how it was different in her childhood, when Jerusalem was a small town and you could see the fireworks from anywhere. She was very eager to tell us about different options for the evening, from singing Israeli songs in a small group to dancing in the streets with a hipper crowd.
As we approached the corner of King George and Ben Yehuda we stumbled upon streets blocked off and filled bustling throngs of celebrants, music blasting, kids blowing horns and squirting silly string, vendors selling candied apples, ice cream, and corn on the cob. The festival atmosphere stretched on for whole city blocks, and we wandered around, snapping pictures, eating dessert, and watching fireworks. Eventually we met up with some HUC friends and made our way to the town hall, where we watched and tried to participate in a massive Israeli dancing event - you'll definately want to check out the video we posted on our photo webpage - it was quite a thing.
Today we went to the park for a picnic, having been told that a barbecue in the park is the Independance Day thing to do. While waiting for our friends to arrive, we watched military planes fly overhead, displaying their prowess. People here pack elaborate picnics, kind of like tailgating parties in the US, and it was fun to fit in. We had our own feast, as Paola (my Italian friend from Hebrew U) baked a pie that was to die for! We had a lovely afternoon under the very hot sun.
I don't have anything profound to say about the experience, I just wanted to give you a taste of what we've been doing over the past few busy days. Happy Independance Day!

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