May is always somewhat of a complicated month in Israel. Right in between the two very happy holidays of Passover and Shavuot, May brings three “holidays” in Israel: Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), Yom Hazikron (memorial day for those lost in military or security action), and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day). Holocaust Memorial Day comes one week before Yom Hazikron, and Yom Hazikron is directly followed by Yom Ha’atzmaut, separated only by a sunset. This month of mixed emotions is difficult and exciting for many Israelis.
Many say that Israel was established in large part by Holocaust survivors who were brave enough to make it to what was then Palestine, and establish a Jewish state through hard work and lots of motivation. Many of these survivors also fought in the War of Independence in 1948, where many soldiers gave their lives for the united goal of establishing a Jewish democratic state. Since the War of Independence, there have been many other wars, operations, and missions in which lives were lost for the same common goal of protecting the state that was established almost 70 years ago by our parents and grandparents. So, while the month of May brings mourning and remembrance, it also brings celebration and joy for what our friends and families protected: our freedom and our security in Israel.
As the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor and concentration camp liberator, Yom HaShoah has always held great meaning for me, because if my grandfather hadn’t escaped, I would not be writing these words right now. However, Yom Hazikron and Yom Ha’atzmaut were a bit harder for me to connect to at first, as I had never experienced direct loss, nor truly appreciated my freedom and safety in Israel.
I remember my first Yom Hazikron and Yom Ha’atzmaut in Israel, and remember thinking that the juxtaposition between the extreme mourning and the extreme joy was odd, thinking that the Israeli society was torturing itself by creating this avoidable emotional rollercoaster. However, after my first year in the IDF when Yom HaShoah, Yom Hazikron and Yom Ha’atzmaut rolled around again, I finally understood the importance of this extreme measure – we have to be sad and mourn those we have lost, but we also have to recognize the significance of the loss in that those mourning and celebrating are still here to remember, and continue to fight for the freedom that so many before us lost their lives fighting for. If we stay sad forever about the tremendous loss in the Holocaust and the tremendous loss in Israel’s wars and operations, we will never be able to appreciate the ground that we walk upon in this beautiful country.
I think that especially for the American population, which is so wonderful about celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut with Walks for Israel and other celebrations, it is so important to read the stories of those who fought for Israel, because as soon as there is a deeper understanding for the unbelievable actions taken to establish and protect Israel, there is a better understanding for the deep love we share for Israel.