Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.
Sunset to Sunset – Turning National Sorrow to National Joy
How can a person go from shedding tears of sorrow one moment to tears of joy the next? By being present in Israel as the sun sets on the day when we remember those who gave their lives in the defense of this country, so that we, who are alive, could celebrate the remembrance of the day that we became a nation. At sundown on April 17 (which is the beginning of the next day, April 18th), we remembered those who fell in our wars and those who were killed by terrorist acts. It is always a difficult time, as Israeli media tells and re-tells the stories of our sons and daughters, who fell victim to a bullet, a bomb or a missile, a stabbing or a car-ramming. A day or two later, many would share how they were glued to the television, with an never-ending stream of tears, riveted to the stories that were told and pictures that were shown throughout the day and night of those who hugged and kissed, who sang and laughed, who played and who fought, but who now are gone, most of whom were cut off at an age at which they were supposed to begin to enjoy life.
But, in addition to the multitude of Hebrew-language stories, the mothers of two American-born IDF soldiers participated in an English-language Memorial Day ceremony in Jerusalem. One of the “lone soldiers” who was killed in the battle of Shejaiya, during the 2014 Gaza War and whose funeral I attended was Nissim Sean Carmeli. His funeral was one of the most moving events of my life and demonstrated the attitude and respect that Israelis have for those who leave family and friends to live and fight, side by side, with those who are willing to defend Israel and to pay the highest price in doing so.
Now, almost four years later, as the sun began to set on the Day of Remembrance, the national mood underwent a subtle change. There was a growing expectation of celebration, of joy that is just around the corner, waiting only for the sun to settle just below the horizon. The country prepared well in advance for the events marking the 70th anniversary of its independence. Switching gears as a nation when evening descended on our national day of mourning to fireworks and celebrations all over the country is no small feat. Those who lost father or mother, son or daughter, brother or sister, husband or wife, or a friend in one of our many wars, or as a result of one or more of the multitude of terrorist acts perpetrated upon us during our short period of existence, do not put aside their remembrance of their loved ones just because the clock says it is time to celebrate. For some, the tragedy continues year to year, month to month, day to day and almost every waking hour. Eli Ben Shem, the Chairman of the Yad Labanim (Memorial to the Sons) organization, who lost his son 21 years ago in what has come to be known as “the helicopter disaster”, expressed it this way during the 66th Independence Day celebrations: “Like many other bereaved parents, I live under two clocks that measure time differently. One tracks the time of the living; the hands of the other one stand still at the point our son was killed…Bereaved parents, the ones who carry two clocks, fight constantly not to forget. The fear of, God forbid, waking up one morning and forgetting our child makes us alert and precise…Today, we give up the memorial clock we carry every day for a short while. We don’t need memorial days. As the cliché says – for us, every day is a memorial day. Today, the State of Israel takes the mourning upon itself. Everyone comforts. Everyone seeks comfort. Without a drop of cynicism. The show of solidarity comes from an honest place, not moralizing or self-righteous. The acknowledgment that we paid the price of living in an independent country with our children’s blood does not leave a single heart indifferent or eye dry.”
Hollywood can’t compare to real life. Every year, we see, hear or read stories about those who were killed and who were added to the growing list of those who have left this world before their time. This year, the number of fallen soldiers grew to 23,645, while the number of terror victims grew to 3,134. These figures may not seem to be large to those who live in countries with tens of millions of people. But, in Israel, every loss is like losing a member of the family and every effort is made to go behind the numbers and show the victims as individuals. The tears that flow from these stories can fill the Sea of Galilee! They touch the lives of families in every strata of society. These are the true “reality” shows that make an impact on our hearts, our minds and our memories. We don’t need a history class to remind us of national tragedies, or of attempts to destroy us as a people throughout our Biblical, and more modern, history. We need a release from the tears of the past. So, it is no major surprise that Memorial Day is followed immediately by Independence Day, a time to celebrate new life – as a people, as a nation, as families and as individuals.
Celebrating life is part of our national DNA. We lift a glass and toast “L’chaim” – “to life”. It is part and parcel of our national resiliency. It causes us to try to turn sorrow into joy and crying into laughter. It enables us to look with anticipation to the future and not to dwell on the problems of the past. It is engrained in the attitude that allows us to keep going forward and to see the good even in a bad situation. It appropriates the understanding that a cheerful heart is good medicine (Proverbs 17:22) and we try to cultivate a sense of humor even in the worst of circumstances. So, when we have an opportunity to celebrate, we take it seriously.
The official ceremony that was held last week on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem was a technological extravaganza, interspersed with a few speeches, songs and dances, among other things. The mood was one of true celebration, of thanksgiving, praise and appreciation of all those who labored to turn the desert of this ancient land green, to drain swamps and turn them into agricultural cooperatives, to build cities, to create a strong, economic infrastructure and to develop dynamic and innovative technology that benefits the world – even our enemies use devices developed by Israel. Celebrations continued throughout the night and the following day, with spectacular events, including some that were put on by the Israeli Air Force.
As was expected, there were some who tried to steal the joys of the day and who intended to carry out terrorist attacks. Israeli Police prevented a knife attack and just before the beginning of the Independence Day celebrations, security forces arrested a “Palestinian” at a checkpoint, after finding what was described as a “powerful explosive device” in his vehicle, which took a long time to defuse. The explosions that we experienced were those of controlled fireworks that lit up the night sky. The explosions that our enemies planned for us were defused.
Many try to “mystify” the fact that this year was Israel’s 70th year of existence. Much can be said about 70 years from a Biblical perspective. Maybe that should be discussed. But for now, I just want to be thankful that God has brought me home to Israel. There really is no place in the world like it and there aren’t enough words that can adequately describe it.
And then there is Iran.
Nothing new about the Iranian threats against Israel. We’ve adjusted to them, even to those that overshadowed our Independence Day celebrations. But, they turned out to be clouds without water. There is no doubt that the constant rhetoric and increasing severity of the threats will, of necessity, generate genuine conflict with the descendants of our Persian enemies. But, that was not to be during the time of Israel’s joyful celebrations accompanying last week’s events.
We’ve been through a lot over the past 70 years. Wars and threats of more wars have filled the pages of our tabloids and airwaves. It is an annoying reality, one that accompanies our daily existence. Much as we try not to talk about it, Israel lives and amazingly functions to rise above the ongoing threats to our existence. We are all aware of the realities. We don’t ignore them, but face them head on. Against the backdrop of Iran’s threats against us, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during his Memorial Day speech, one day before Independence Day, “Anyone who raises a hand against us won’t be spared.” Maybe Iran was listening and taking note. But, if it didn’t, God stepped in and gave Iran a direct reminder that Israel has a Friend in the highest of places. In the midst of Iran’s increased threats against Israel, Iran experienced a major sandstorm that blanketed an entire province in the heart of Iran last week. It was also hit with a severe earthquake that registered 5.9 on the Richter Scale a few miles from its only operating nuclear power plant, at a time when Israelis were celebrating the 70th anniversary of our independence as a nation. May Israel remember always, that He Who shakes the mountains and the earth has also inscribed us on the palms of His hands.
“[He] who touches you touches the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8).”
“Behold, all those who are angered at you will be shamed and dishonored; Those who contend with you will be as nothing and will perish…Those who war with you will be as nothing and non-existent.” (Isaiah 41:11-12)
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.