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From Mourning to Celebrating

Today, on Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, the State of Israel shed its 24 hours of sorrow commemorating Yom HaZikaron, Israel Memorial Day, for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, replacing it with joy and gratitude to celebrate the State’s 72nd anniversary.

When David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, declared the birth of the Jewish State, only 650,000 Jews lived in the newly born country. Since that Friday afternoon, May 14, 1948, Israel has moved forward, taking enormous leaps unlike any other nation. Israel’s population of nine million people has surged, not only in numbers, but also in might and strength—demonstrating spiritual, social, academic, cultural, moral, and physical powers—to make Eretz Yisrael an incredible start-up nation.

These two sacred days—Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut—are my two favorite days of the year. They are days on which I feel more Israeli, more Jewish, more connected to our collective past, to our miraculous present, and to our promising future.

They are days of pride, prompting a sense of unity, family, and shared destiny. On the first, Israelis rush to cemeteries to be with bereaved families to stand side-by-side, lend a shoulder, share tears, whisper words of support and love. We visit bereaved families at home, listen to their stories, browse through old albums, witness how for some, time stops, frozen in the moment that a knock on the door changed their lives forever. They have allowed grief and pain to settle in—such an unwelcome guest.

This year, thanks to another unwelcome guest, the Covid-19 virus, everything is different. Our pride, holiness, and owe still bow in spring winds that carry the fresh scent of blossoms, but cemeteries remain closed. A shrine to so many is now beyond reach. It kept friends and loved ones from bereaved families, prevented random Israelis from stopping by to be with them, to be present at a house of sorrow, to share the pain.

This year we hugged and cried, embraced and whispered—in our hearts or online. We were still with Roni and Sharon’s families, my husband two best friends who were killed in action. We remembered Natan, my daughter’s friend killed in Gaza and Tzvikah, our neighbor’s son killed in a vicious terror attack. We cherish them in our hearts always. We were with their families and the families of so many others—from a distance.

And then, in that twilight zone between day and night, when the sun sets and rising stars illuminate our skies, 12 torches marking the 12 tribes of Israel were lit at Mount Herzl to announce the beginning of Yom HaAtzmaut celebrations. Israel’s largest ceremony, always attended by tens of thousands, had no live audience. The festivity too, like the agony of yesterday, is being marked in homes by each of us—individually and alone.

Yesterday we were united in sorrow, today we rejoice with pride, and as always, confident we shall overcome this year’s unwelcomed disease, a wild pandemic.

I can picture David Ben Gurion and our founders gazing at us from wherever they are, so very proud of the seeds they planted and of Israel’s accomplishments and contributions to the world. I can almost hear them say, “L’shanah habaah b’Yerushalyim.” Next year in Jerusalem, in peace, in good health, and together.

Chag Sameach! Happy Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel!

Leah Garber
Vice President, Center for Israel Engagement



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