We finally arrived in Tel Aviv, the final stop in what already feels like an incredibly full journey. As we drove down Highway 2 from Caesarea, the posts on both sides of the roads were festooned with Israel flags in anticipation of the two most important days in Israel’s calendar, Yom ha-Zikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom ha-Atzma’ut (Independence Day). Yom ha-Zikaron recalls and honors those who lost their lives defending Israel in the IDF or as victims of terror attacks. One of the things that makes Israel so intense is how close-knit and connected everyone is and because of this virtually every Israeli has been affected by this sort of loss – if not of someone they know directly, then of someone who is close to a person they know. The loss radiates outward, an idea that the iconic Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai (1924-2000) captured when he wrote:
The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making a circle with no end and no God.
At 8:00 we stood on the streets of Tel Aviv as the two-minute siren that we heard last Thursday on Yom ha-Shoah sounded once again throughout the country. Once again we witnessed cars and traffic come to a halt, pedestrians stop on the sidewalk, drivers get out of their cars and stand in silent homage. On television this evening, there is nothing but documentaries about soldiers’ lives, broadcasts of ceremonies marking the occasion, and the names of the many, many Israelis who died far too young. The country is caught up in one giant sob.