Israel Memorial Day: A Prescribed National Sadness
There is a distinct feeling, around this time of year, that my emotions are being dictated by strategically placed holidays. I mentioned in a previous post that much of the way Israelis deal with difficult situations is through stoic indifference. While this type of attitude pulls the reigns most of the time, there is one particular day in which it is becomes exceedingly difficult to turn a blind eye.
This time of year in Israel, when the sun becomes a little hotter and people begin smelling the first whiffs of relaxation, our calendar forces us back into the same reality we so gracefully try to gloss over with carpe diem-esque declarations. These two days, in which Memorial Day flows seamlessly into the following Independence Day are back-to-back evenings of intense, contradictory emotion.
On Israel Memorial Day, ceremonies abound in every university campus, high school, town and city. Stories are recounted, wept over, lamented. Names of those who have passed are displayed on overwhelming screens, songs composed of metaphoric musings of mutability sung from every stage, played from every radio station. Two chilling sirens wail a tone of forced remembrance; one minute of screeching silence in which every person, every car, every bicycle, every movement comes to a complete and utter standstill.
While collectivity and social cohesion are inextricably important in a time of mourning, I felt that my own mourning had to be done my own way this year.
I didn’t go to the Tel Aviv’s annual Memorial Day ceremony last night. Nor did I watch it on TV. I decided that my memories, my own recollections and understanding and appreciation would suffice, for me, this time around. That my constant awareness, my irrefutable connection to the land, allowed me to express something within myself that I felt unnecessary to share with the rest of the nation. While collectivity and social cohesion are inextricably important in a time of mourning, I felt that my own mourning had to be done my own way this year. And that way was through a Middle Eastern-Mexican-fusion dinner party.
It has become something of a tradition of my friends and I to do something together on days such as this one. Last year, on Holocaust day, we intended to meet and watch ‘Life is Beautiful.’ Instead, we ended up forgoing the movie and talking, laughing, and having what became one of our most memorable evenings together. At one point, with tears of laughter running down his face, my friend Eli put an ironic finger to his lips and reminded us that it was, after all, a day of mourning. Instead of relapsing into instant and imposed sadness, we proclaimed that what we were doing was exactly what we should be doing – celebrating our lives, our friendship, our ability to sit together and be free and happy and alive.
I do believe that each and every one of us, throughout our lives, remembers to never forget. I also believe that at least at one point during that specific day, we remembered, and thought, and straightened our backs in defiance to the world, however subtly. But that evening, in which we collectively decided to relinquish the prescribed sadness of the day, we came to a much more poignant, internalized appreciation of life.
Last year, on Holocaust day, we intended to meet and watch ‘Life is Beautiful.’ Instead, we ended up forgoing the movie and talking, laughing, and having what became one of our most memorable evenings together.
Last night, while we rolled avocado and beans and hummus into our tortilla wraps, we talked about Hemingway and Twilight and the distilling process of whisky. We talked about Rastafarianism and Cuba and The Buena Vista Social Club. We ate and we laughed and we listened to music and we lived. And we remembered. Because deep within us, no matter how much life we have under our belt, it is impossible for us to forget. It is embedded, engrained. It is a part of who we are.
As it goes, Memorial Day dissipates into the all-night, uninhibited and sensational celebrations of Independence Day. Every street corner, every bar, every restaurant will be cheering and raising their glasses to the joy of being a nation. The ubiquitous tears from last night’s ceremonies have completely dried up; memories have been folded back into their dreary corners, awaiting their time for next year’s exposure. Out with despondency and in with joy – the motto is undeniably catchy. I don’t need to be told how to feel. I just need to know what I believe, what I love, and what I refuse to forget.
Now if you’ll excuse me. I have a party to get to.