As with Yom ha-Shoah, the weather turned strikingly grey and cloudy in the morning again for what is only the second time in our trip, almost as if the skies above Israel are joining in the sense of sorrow and solemnity that is all around us. As I mentioned in my last post, for twenty-four hours Israeli TV channels carry only programming related to Yom ha-Zikaron; other channels simply show a picture like the one at right that reads “Broadcasts will resume at the end of Yom ha-Zikaron.” For members of the trip, the sadness of Yom ha-Zikaron is also accentuated by our sorrow at the untimely loss of our own Ben Fields and we are keeping him and his family in our heart and in our prayers from Israel on this day of mourning.
We began the day walking through two important Tel Aviv areas, the neighborhood of Neve Tzedek where Tel Aviv got its start as the first Jewish neighborhood to be built outside the ancient port of Yaffo (Jaffa) in 1887, and Shuk ha-Caramel, the Tel Aviv fruit and vegetable market whose usual bustle was noticeably subdued on this Yom ha-Zikaron. When the siren sounded at 11:00 we stood near a children’s preschool and witnessed the remarkable phenomenon of an instant hush falling over a crowd of young children, who instantly stopped their playing and their games and stood at attention in silent respect. Their silence spoke more eloquently than any words about the personal loss that all Israelis feel on this powerful day.
After lunch in the market we visited the phenomenal new Rabin Museum, opened just five years ago documenting with remarkable early footage the history of the state of Israel and dedicated to the life of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (1922-1995) – a hero first of Israel’s War of Independence and then the Six Day War, the battles that first formed and then secured the young state. He of course continued to serve his country and to attempt to ensure its future by fighting next for peace, signing the Oslo accords in 1993 with Yasir Arafat and paving the way for a state of Palestine next to the state of Israel. As we know all too well, this brave effort tragically cost him his life in 1995 when he was assassinated by right-wing yeshivah student Yigal Amir in an unfathomable act that shattered the country’s innocence and hopes for peace and whose tragic echoes still reverberate to this day. We had prayed at his grave on Mt. Herzl last week and now we visited the site of that fateful peace rally where he was gunned down, since renamed Kikar Rabin (Rabin Square). There we recited a prayer on this Yom ha-Zikaron for Israel’s foremost fallen warrior, who risked his life for Israel so many times in battle and ultimately lost it in the quest for peace, mourning the man and all that might have been.
Finally we took a fascinating tour of the south Tel Aviv district of Florentin with local guide and linguist Guy Sharett. We explored this grittier neighborhood of the city through the lens of the ubiquitous graffiti that Israeli street artists have sprayed on the walls in a constantly evolving display of self-expression. Young hipsters have appropriated popular icons and symbols in inventive and ironic ways, making political statements and reinventing the vernacular by incorporating elements of English, Aramaic, Yiddish, and other languages. On the verge of Yom ha-Atzma’ut, it was a perfect and hopeful demonstration of the energy and vitality of Israeli life that make this country so vibrant.