Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Standing for the Siren

After not writing a blog for a month, I'm now writing two in two days but I felt I had to write one specially for Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut, especially since last year, even though I was in the army, I hardly felt the true meaningfullness (is that even a word?!?!?) of these two incredibly important days. Talking of incorrect grammar by the way, I have to apologise for my terrible spelling mistakes on teh (that one was on purpose!) last blog, which I just saw now. I know how my mum and flatmate always get annoyed by it, but it just can't help it really.

Before I even talk about Yom Hazikaron/Ha'atzmaut, I did forget to mention in the last blog about a very proud and recent accomplishment of mine. Last week was the midway point of the course and that meant passing certain tests; like there are at the beginning and end of the course. There was the bar-or (the army's general fitness test) that all soldiers, kravi or non-kravi, do at some point in their service; we have to do it every couple of months as a way of keeping tabs on our fitness. I actually did the best I've ever done on the bar-or with full scores in both press-ups and sit-ups and 7:41 in the 2km, but that's not even the big deal! The big deal is also not that fact that I got 72 in my written and practical exam on all the different types of weapons in the army infantry brigades, not a bad score considering my difficulty with the language. Just to say, this blog is not a medium for me to boast about all the achievements, although I do like to do that (!), I'm simply explaining what I did last week, hehe. The real big deal is that I passed the 'bohen samal' (seargent's test), a combination of the dreaded assualt course and a shooting exam that followed an extended sprint and crawl. I can't rememeber if I ever mentioned it in any of my earlier blogs while I was still at the paratroopers' training base, but I always had a problem with the assualt course, finding it very difficult to pass it due to both the not-easy task of getting past the many obstacles (like the notorious wall or 3 metre high ropes) and the hard time in which to pass it, less than ten minutes. It took me nearly eight months to pass the assualt course on the training base and, thus, it was the thing I was most anxious about doing in the whole of makim. However, somehow and I still don't truly know how, I passed it first time and got, if I may say so myself, a truly unbelievable time of 8:13. I don't know why the sudden change of fortune, maybe it's that my fitness has improved during the course or my susceptiblity to quitting has decreased!

So, even before I mention the whole Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut thing, I also think it's important talk about another symbolic day that happenend last week, Yom Hasho'ah (Rememberance Day for the Holocaust). This was another thing that I didn't feel at all last year, mainly because twelve months ago I was in the middle of a week in the shetach. This year however, I was on base and, although I still feel they should have made an even more of an effort with the whole day, I still experienced the solemness of the day. Especially, when the siren rang out and I looked out at the rest of my pluga in makim (company in commanders' course); combat soldiers from the whole army joined together to stand in attention for all those who were murdered in the Holocaust. It was highly symbolic. A group of young Israelis, proudly serving in the Israeli army and soon-to-be commanders of the next generation of young Israelis. If only the Nazis were to see that sight, something they so inhumanely tried to prevent, the continuation of the Jewish people, was a terrible failure and in Israel, as we celebrate on Yom Ha'aztmaut, we can see the unfathomable success.


Yom Hazikaron is another day where Israel stops to remember those who have died in the struggle of our people and for the fight for Israel. 'Yom Hazikaron' (Day of Rememberance) is dedicated to all those who gave their lives; both soldiers who have fallen in action and civilians who have been murdered through acts of terror or casualties of war. It is the saddest day in the year for Israelis. This is beacuse every single person in this country knows at least one person who has died in those circumstances, and even those have perished through something unrelated, like a car accident (which unfortunately there are far too many here in Israel), are specifically remembered on this day. On Yom Hazikaron, people go to the graves of lost loved ones, the military grave at Mount Herzl in particular is always packed with people, it was said yesterday there were over 101,000 people there. On Erev Yom Hazikaron, Sunday evening, I went to the special ceremony at Rabin square, a ten minute walk from my new apartment. It was definitely a very emotional evening and the first time I have properly experienced this day here in Israel, as last year in the army I was doing guarding in Jerusalem. The ceremony at Rabin sqaure was basically a collection of live performances of sad songs and very moving videos of stories from families who have lost loved ones. Most of those from the videos who had passed away were combat soldiers and standing there in my uniform and gun at Rabin square, I felt proud to have made aliyah and be in the army, a representative of the body that does everything it can to protect its citizens by putting soldiers on the front line, like myself.


Yom Hazikaron is the most heartbreaking day of the year, to think how many mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters and sons and daughters, are going to graves of those who have died for a great cause, the best cause I can think of, but have died none the less. On the videos that were shown at the ceremony it was the same thing that kept coming up and kept haunting me; all the mothers telling how there was a "knock on the door" and two army officers were standing there and from that point they knew they had lost their son or daughter. It's obviously extrememly sad, but it also makes me angry that so many lives have been cut short and wasted because our neighbours refuse to make peace. Another notable thing about Yom Hazikaron is the siren, which sounds the night before and then again in the morning. Throughout Israel, it is maintained immaculately and is a very remarkable sight to see if you're new to this, as people stop everything they're doing and stand to respect the siren. On the roads, drivers stop their car, and get out to stand, while those in a middle of a conversation in a coffee shop do the same. For the siren, I walked down to the bottom of my street, Rothschild Boulevard, to where the Independace Hall is, as I don't really have any specific graves to visit.

I understand why Yom Hazikaron is the day immediately before Yom Ha'aztmaut. The day before we celebrated Israel's birthday and independance day, we have to acknowledge and remember the huge price we paid and continue to pay to have our country and our freedom. On one day, we mourn the young boys and girls who gave their lives in the face of terrorism and then on the next, we celebrate the miracle that we have, for 63 years now, something that Jews prayed in vain for for nearly 2000 years, a land of our own, even in the face of that same terrorism. It's a strange transition to go through; from devastation and mourning, to elation and joy, within the space of twenty four hours. For the families who have lost relatives it must be very difficult indeed, as you can't simply forget about what happened and then the next day to go out and party. The mood in Israel on Yom Ha'atzmaut is very party mode and the celebrations go long into the night. Maybe for some it is just an excuse for a night out, but most of those living here understand the meaning behind all these celebratons; the success story that is Israel and the miracle that it has finally become what it was promised to be: a safe home for Jews all over the world. I celebrated Yom Ha'atzmaut with a fun night out and a barbecue the next day, as did most of the country.


I definitely feel, as opposed to last year, that I experienced the lows and highs that is Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut respectively, like a true Israeli. These past two days, especially the ceremony at Kikar Rabin made me feel incredibly passionate and zionist. Back to the army tomorrow, quite optimistic to be going back to routine of being in the army for more of an extended time. Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. I randomly came across your blog while browsing and I am so happy I stopped here. I hope it's ok that I, an American living in Israel, am reading your personal blog but I am going to follow anyways. I find your blog really, truly inspiring. And sadly I don't find a lot of that around.
    It is also so good to hear about a (non-israeli) soldier's point of view.
    I wish you so much luck with everything, may you stay safe & god bless xx