By Shelley Neese
In the last two weeks, Israel has observed three national holidays that had to be observed individually rather than communally. First, it was on April 20th that Israel marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah. Normally, there would have been a very large state ceremony held at Yad Vashem. Six beacons are lit in memory of the six million Jewish lives lost. Additional ceremonies take place throughout the country in schools, on military bases, and synagogues.
None of that could happen in person this year. Holocaust survivors are certainly among the vulnerable during this pandemic so they too stayed at home. Israel still used the two minute air-raid siren and this year instead of streets and hustling sidewalks coming to a stop, people sat quietly in their homes. I hope and pray that the siren was able to pierce through the loneliness that the pandemic has stirred.
Yom Hazikaron or Israel’s Memorial Day happened on April 27th. This is normally an opportunity for the country to recognize all of the fallen soldiers and all the victims of terror in Israel’s 72 years of war and conflict. The young country, with its near universal army conscription, relates to the military as a nation in a way that few other countries do. When military service is required that means that every adult has their own experiences in uniform and every child knows they will be called upon in service to their country. The connection is real and profound. Just like on Holcaust Remembrance Day, a air-raid siren goes off all over the country for two minutes for a moment of silence and reflection. This year Israel had to close off military cemeteries and not allow for congregating at cemetery cites or memorials. The national memorial services were mostly viewed virtually with a few select military and political leaders in masks. Still, families lit candles in their homes for the lives lost and remembered.
Israel’s Independence Day or Yom Hatzmaout always follows its Memorial Day in the true biblical tradition from ashes to beauty. Israel turns 72 this year. Normally, the day is marked by parades, barbeques, and fireworks all over the country. I have thankfully had the opportunity to either be in Israel for every Independence Day over the last 15 years or at a special event hosted by the Israeli embassy in DC. So even for me, I am feeling alone thinking about what this means to celebrate and mark God’s hand at work in the world through this tiny and miraculous country and not do so in community.
Like people all over the world, Israel has tried to get creative in its approach. The concerts and readings and speeches have all gone online. And there is a wealth of events to attend virtually. Certainly, no one will ever forget the Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, or Yom Hatzmauot of 2020. But from my lips to God’s ears, next year I pray that everyone will be able to pay tribute to those gone together and in unity in person and then celebrate to real fireworks and real communal singing. We will never take those kinds of things for granted again.