The weeks we are currently in are the most painful and poignant in the Israeli calendar. Last Thursday morning, the nation came to a standstill as a two-minute siren reverberated across the country. Cars pulled to the highways’ sides, the relentless tapping of keyboards ceased, and schoolchildren froze in place under the watchful gaze of stern teachers.
For two minutes, Israel stood still and remembered the bloody nightmare our nation suffered just three-quarters of a century ago. For two minutes, we recalled the horror stories our grandparents whispered, pulling back sleeves to reveal dark ink streaking sagging skin, an indelible reminder of the past. For two minutes, grey striped pajamas and gaunt, starving faces and garish yellow Stars of David filled the deepest recesses of our minds with a fear we have never experienced yet cannot forget.
This week, the nation will stop again. But this time, we won’t just mourn the pain of the past: our national heartache is an ongoing constant. We will unite, smothered by a grief that haunts our collective conscience and drives our soldiers forward. We will unite, filling the country’s cemeteries with love and respect and gratitude. We will unite, millions of hearts beating together; millions of tears watering the ground where our brothers and sisters and cousins and parents and teachers and friends and lovers have been laid to rest. We will unite, remembering the wars waged and battles fought; the casualties caused and the lives lost. Our flags will fly at half-mast and our eyes will be downcast, yet still we will unite, determined to fight together and ensure our losses have not been in vain.
And then… and then it will be Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Israeli Independence Day. From the depths of national mourning we will raise our heads in national pride, and our eternal symbol – the Israeli flag – will once again fly high and proud above our heads. We will unite in dance and song; we will unite to hike and eat. We will unite to celebrate our independence and the freedom that eluded us for so long. We will celebrate our triumph over those who sought our destruction. We will celebrate Israel.