First published April 19, 2018.
48 hours ago, I stood frozen as the siren wailed and I was thrown back into a nightmare from 25 years ago when I buried my friend and platoon mate, Yehoshua Friedberg. Every year I am concerned that I will not be able to make the transition between the memories and pain of Memorial Day to the celebration of Israel’s Independence. How can we celebrate when 23,646 families are still mourning their sons and daughters? How can we celebrate when we barely wiped away the tears of sadness? Why and how does Israel expect people to transition from mourning to celebration when the clock strikes 8:00pm?
Last night, I was asked to sound another alarm as we held a special Teffilah (prayer) for the opening of Yom Haatzmaut ( Israel Independence Day celebrations). I was asked to sound the shofar.
Like the siren of yesterday, the shofar was sounded in biblical times as a call to war. The shofar was also sounded to gather the nation and the trumpets were sounded at the times of celebration as well at times of self-introspection.
As I took a deep breath, I felt a strong pinch of mixed emotion. On the one hand, the deep sorrow and the loss of yesterday and on the other hand the realization that here I am, in Israel, standing in a shul in Judea! The shul is filled with children, parents, grandparents and even some great-grandparents. A shul filled with 3 generations of Jews is something that would not have been possible just one generation back. Then to imagine 3 generations of Jews coming together to say Thank You to God for bringing us back to the land of Israel?! But the pain and the memories and the fact that Yehoshua and 23,646 others are not here to celebrate….. My lungs are now full and as I hold my breath for a couple of seconds as I contemplate, everything.
As I begin to exhale, the shofar sounds and at first it hurts as it has the same sound as the siren. After a couple of seconds, I realize this sound is different. It’s a beautiful sound. It’s not a sound produced by a computer but one that comes from our breath. It’s the result of our efforts and of course God’s countenance. The pain of yesterday does not get easier nor is it forgotten, but the shofar is a call for realization.
We are home! We are living the prayers and fantasy of our past generations. Two thousand years of Jews prayed, cried and bled the dream to return to Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel). The return to Zion is no longer only in our prayers. We are living the prophecies of our religion. What was once a biblical dream has become a reality.
Yesterday, the longer the siren sounded, the deeper the pain became. Today, the longer the shofar sounds the feelings of sadness and pain turns into feelings of celebration. The pain of what we lost is softened ( but never forgotten) with the appreciation of what we have and what we gained.
23,646 faces are looking down at us and smiling. We miss them all dearly but they are all celebrating with us. We don’t remember them because they died, we celebrate them because of what they lived for.
it’s not about a transition from sadness to happiness.
It’s about understanding just how fortunate we are and their sacrifice commands us to appreciate and never take this country for granted.
Not to celebrate would be to dishonor their memory. The transition is almost there, but I need a little more time and I try to keep the shofar blast loud for just a little while longer and then it hits me and I tell myself, ‘SAVE YOUR BREATH!
You need your breath to sing and dance. You need breath to walk this land and you need to wave that flag and you need to thank God as well as those who gave their lives so that we can celebrate.
Finish the shofar blast strong and start the celebrations!” With air still left in my lungs, I pull the shofar away and we start to sing, NEXT YEAR IN FULLY BUILT JERUSALEM. The same song we, the Jewish people, have sung for two thousand years, but now it has a different tune.
While our ancestors sang these words, it was a prayer whispered with tears of sadness and the realization that Returning to Zion is nowhere near being a reality. We now sing this song with joy with the realization that we are back and well on our way! התחלא דגאולה (the beginning of redemption).
So transition and celebrate! 23,646 of our heroes are looking down and commanding us to celebrate!
Happy Israel Independence Day חג שמח! Yom Haatzmaut Sameyach!