Holocaust Remembrance Day 2014
I’ve heard that when you get used to something it can lose it’s effect on you, but after three years of living in Israel I still haven’t gotten used to the days where the wailing siren sounds all throughout Israel, and the entirety of the country comes to a complete stop. It is as overwhelming to me today as it was when I heard it for the first time three years ago.
Today began like any other day… except that it wasn’t just another day. This particular day marked the day of remembrance for the 6 million Jews, and the 11 million people in total, who lost their lives to the Nazis during the Holocaust. To commemorate, and honor, the memories of both those who perished and those who survived, there was to be a 2 minute siren that would sound throughout all of Israel. At 9:50 a group of us departed the confines of our office for the busy kikar (square) in front of our building so that when the siren sounded we would be able to pay our respects along side perfect strangers that we have nothing, yet everything, in common with. The square is the home to one of Tel Aviv’s largest cinematheques, and with a myriad of restaurants, offices, cafes, and residencies in the area, it is one of the busiest places in the center of Tel Aviv.
At 9:50 life is normal. The kikar is full of school children getting ready to see a movie with their class, busy workers line the street to wait for their turn to buy a 5 shekel coffee before they start their day, trucks stop to unload goods to neighboring shops, while cars flood the busy intersection that lies in front of us.
9:55: Life is still normal. Israelis and tourists alike fill the kikar’s many chairs and benches enjoying the gorgeous, sunny, warm day, and Spring’s true beauty can be seen everywhere you turn. A couple to the left of me sits reading a newspaper, two elderly ladies sit gossiping on a bench, and children are talking on the steps of the theater about whatever children talk about these days.
9:56…9:57…9:58…9:59… Still normal… And then
A sound like you can’t imagine permeates the air all around you. There is no escape. You are consumed by a wail that, despite knowing it’s coming, you can’t prepare for. And then the world stops as quickly as if someone has just pressed pause on their TV remote. Everyone is standing like statues, frozen, unable to move as we remember one of the darkest, most tragic, periods of our history. Cars stop in the middle of the streets with driver and passenger alike stepping out to stand on the road to honor our fallen people.
But we do so much more than honor those who perished at the hands of the bitterest of evils. Yes we honor and remember those who died, praising their memories, their lives, their histories, but we also celebrate that we are still here, thriving and prospering all over the world. We stand with each and every survivor who still walks this earth. Those amazing men and women who kept our faith and traditions alive despite the odds being ever against them, and who single handedly helped build the beautiful country that I, and 7.1 million other people, call home. Despite everything that has happened, here we stand. A country and a people completely united. We have won.
It’s been three years but the sound of the siren still takes my breath away, and I fight to try and hold back tears that are so anxious to escape. I look at the old women so near to me and wonder if they, themselves, are survivors, though whether they are or not doesn’t matter. We are all Jews and thus all victims and survivors alike. At this point I’m overwhelmed by emotions stemming from the depths of my core, that during the last seconds of the siren I have so many feelings running through me I run the risk of exploding.
10:02: Life resumes
I am thrown back into the real world where hate, ignorance, and intolerance still burn bright and strong in so many places. I’m thrown back into a world where stories surface of Jews being beaten in France, Jews having to register in parts of Russia, shootings at Jewish community centers in my own country of America, and more. Yet we are still here… Despite what the world has thrown at us, and despite what it will throw at us in the future, we have survived and will continue to survive and thrive.
The siren really symbolizes a promise. A promise that I make to God, to you, friend, the rest of my family, and a promise that I make to myself to honor all those who suffered, and continue to suffer, at the hands of hate, intolerance, and injustice by doing my part to ensure that our time honored traditions, and beautiful history, are passed down for generations to come. As I ready myself to one day start a family of my own, with a man who I love beyond the depths of my soul, I take pride in the fact that our children will be raised in a Jewish home, much like I was, learning traditions that will connect them to centuries of past generations; traditions that you and my parents passed down to me, and that, one day, they will also pass down. They will never know you, but they will always be connected to you, and every other Jew from the past, present, and future. A future that we will continue to build and strengthen.
We will survive, and we will never forget
I love you beyond words and miss you every second of every day
Until we meet again <3,