Oh America, how I’ve missed you and your wide open spaces, the smell of Cinnabon, and your lax passport control. I went to the U.S. for a few days for my sister’s graduation from Indiana University (go Hoosiers!) and it ended up being a good opportunity to reflect on my time in Israel and to compare the two countries.
While singing the American national anthem in a football stadium that equals the size of my neighborhood in Tel Aviv, I noticed that most people weren’t singing along – maybe just one in ten people. It normally wouldn’t have fazed me but just two days before, I stood among 300 Jews at Yad Vashem (the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem) and sang Israel’s national anthem “Hatikvah.” Most everyone knew the words but it wasn’t just that – it was the fact that we sang it with Holocaust survivors in front of us and young soldiers behind us. We sang in unison and the emotion was palpable.
That’s the thing about Israel – history is personal. History is not just a subject taught in school but it is embedded into everyday life. A week after Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day), which is followed by Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day aka Israel’s birthday).
Once on Yom HaShoah and twice on Yom Hazikaron, a siren goes off for one minute (two minutes for the last siren) and the world stops – everyone stands in silence. Drivers pull over and stand beside their cars. Diners stand up inside of the restaurant or walk out to the terrace. Residents come out onto their balconies. No one breathes a word in this one minute. It is a time to honor those who were killed in the Holocaust or in service to this country. This one minute is powerful and unlike any other experience.
In what can only be described as an emotional roller coaster of a week, there are many more things I could write about but I’ll sum it up with this: You can call Israelis many things but heartless is not one of them. Israel was and continues to be a haven, in which mourning is equal to celebrating life.
Some light reading to balance things out:
1) If you’re planning on visiting the U.S., be careful whom you tell. For example, an Israeli relative may ask you to bring back some things and you agree but by the time you realize the mistake you’ve made, he has already started going crazy on Amazon – like a true American.
2) Don’t be afraid to ask for help at the train station. One in four people are just as confused as you are.
3) Things you will see at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport: four security agents gathered behind the X-ray machine attempting to console an old Russian woman…apparently knives aren’t allowed past security – even if they were packed in the fruit bag.
4) In America, small cups aren’t all that small and in order to come to this realization, you need to live abroad.
5) If you’re here long enough, you will catch dog fever – the belief that there has been a void in your life that can only be filled by a dog (or a pack of dogs).
6) What makes Israel different from other Middle Eastern countries? You won’t see pictures of a dictator plastered everywhere. Rather, you will consistently see Bar Rafaeli (Israel’s answer to Gisele Bundchen) at every turn. If anyone asks, including Bibi, she is the unofficial prime minister.