This week in Israel was extremely busy. The juxtaposition of Memorial Day and Independence Day results in 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 the week:
On Sunday evening we went to Ra’anana for a special Yom HaZikaron ceremony organized by Masa and attended by several thousand people from different programs. The ceremony was very moving. It began with some words from Natan Sharansky, the human rights activist, author, Israeli politician, and refugee from the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s, who spent nine years in Soviet prisons.
We then heard stories about seven different fallen soldiers and victims of terror including Ezra Schwartz and Michael Levin. Both are participants in MASA programs. The event was extremely powerful. The thousands of people present were silent and 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.
On Monday, 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. We walked around and took note of the fact that the ages of those that had died were not far off our own; we 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 fought for a country they love. These were heroes.
In the evening Independence Day began. 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. In the morning we were crying at Mount Herzl, and at night we were folk dancing in Safra Square. It was incredible. On the day of Yom HaAtzmaut the vast majority of Israelis have barbeques and of course, so did we. Aardvark hosted a wonderful BBQ in Tel Aviv, full of music, tons of food, and good company.
The past week was very emotional and full of real 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.
Sean Kramer said, “The solidarity was astonishing. To see everyone standing together, united on Yom Hazikaron mourning our fallen soldiers on Mount Herzl, to celebrating our country on the streets of Ben Yehuda later that day is absolutely incredible”.
Next week we are going to the City of David archaeological site just outside the walls of the Old City.
And as part of our “Faces of Israel Program” we’re going to cook a Poyke Dinner – Poyke is a method of outdoor cooking that originated in South Africa and became an Israeli tradition.