Last week in Israel was extremely busy so as a result of the holidays combined with the end of year preparations my letter is reaching you a little later than usual. The consecutive holidays of Memorial Day and Independence Day create a very special time in Israel. Marking these days the students felt the unification of Israel during the bad times and of course the good. Here are some of the highlights from this week:
On Sunday we started to prepare for Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day). Several students were asked to learn the story of a soldier who fell in the line of duty and prepare to talk about it during our trip to Mt Herzl – the national military cemetery in Jerusalem. We gave the students a number of individuals to choose from and they each chose the person they felt they could relate to most.
On Monday we also started to prepare ourselves for Independence Day by learning Rikudai Am (Israeli Folk dancing). We had a great time learning the moves and readying ourselves to make sure we didn’t look silly on the dance floor. After we burned calories through dancing we rewarded ourselves with “sabich,” an Iraqi dish of fried eggplant, potatoes and hard-boiled egg all in a pita. After the experience Nurit told me that she felt that this was “an intense week but that Rikudei Am was the perfect break and way to relax. We had an amazing instructor (who is also a known DJ here in Jerusalem). We had so much fun dancing, and I personally reconnected to the Rikudim since I was a dance instructor back in Panama. We danced until we were literally exhausted but then were rewarded with traditional sabich, which made it all worth it. All in all, it was a great way to dig deeper into Israeli culture, just in time for Yom Haatzmaut.”
On Tuesday we visited Mt Herzl. Our national cemetery is the final resting place for our past Presidents, Prime Ministers and soldiers. It is also a place which tells the history of our people. We were guided through the cemetery and heard the stories of many different soldiers. Charles wrote a beautiful poem about one of the fallen soldiers, Max Steinberg, which he shared with all of us.
Anna described the experience for us. “On Wednesday we woke up early to go to Har Hertzl, Israel’s national cemetery where the grounds stretch for miles with graves of fallen soldiers. Thousands of people were there to remember those they had lost, but for the most part it was silent. I walked around noticing the ages of those that had died were not far off from my own and I began to think of the individuality behind the graves. We were lucky enough to talk to family and friends of those who had passed and hear stories about soldiers throwing themselves on top of others to save lives amidst an explosion. These were people who had fought for a country they love. These were heroes. Later that night we went to Latrun for a special Yom HaZikaron ceremony organized by Masa and attended by several thousand people on different programs. The ceremony was very moving. We heard stories about seven different fallen soldiers and victims of terror including Ezra Schwartz whom many people in the audience had known personally. The event was extremely powerful and just as at Har Hertzl, the thousands of people present were silent. It was an incredible experience to be in Israel for Yom Hazikaron. All of Israel was mourning and came together as one to remember the lives taken.”
The next day it was Yom Hazikaron followed by the beginning of Independence Day in the evening. Shaine wrote about her experience: “The transition from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut was such a cultural shock. The day changed from one of the saddest days of the year to one of the happiest. It felt almost immediate. That morning we were crying at Mount Herzl and that night we were folk dancing in Safra Square. It was incredible. On the day of Yom HaAtzmaut everyone barbecues. And luckily so did we. Aardvark hosted a wonderful barbecue in Tel Aviv, full of music, tons of food, and good company. Then afterwards, we wandered around Tel Aviv, getting ice cream, playing Bocci, and people watching. It was so fun!”
This past week the students from Marva came back home for a few days off from their army base. Daniel shared with us: “Coming home from Marva was really an amazing experience. You don’t realize how much you appreciate the small things in life like a free weekend until it’s taken away from you. Anyways coming home to Yom Haatzmaut was really amazing. Not only did I get to see and hang out with all of my friends but we got to go out to the shuk and have a good time. Then on Friday night we had a really nice dinner organized by Tally with a bunch of people. The dinners with Tally on Friday night are always the best. Lastly the weekend was incredibly relaxing and I was happy that I got to spend a lot of time with my friends that I will be saying good bye to very soon.”
The past week was very emotional and full of authentic Israel life. You could really see how the students understood the depth of the days and how special it is to be a part of this country.