The Year In Israel

By Max Fruchter

Only a week after returning from our yeshiva’s trip to Poland, many of us felt similar feelings of sadness as we proceeded to enter the Mount Herzl cemetery on Yom HaZikaron. It was quite difficult to hold back tears at the sight of thousands of Jews clutching flowers in one hand and a Tehillim in the other. Fright and genuine grief overcame me as I noticed pictures of young men no older than myself framed atop graves throughout the cemetery.

My fellow yeshiva students and I recited Tehillim in front of numerous kevarot, not knowing who exactly had fallen yet understanding precisely why they had. The sight of soldiers proudly wearing various symbols of their units on their lapels allowed for a moment of insight into the dedication and commitment demonstrated by all in the Tzahal; the insignias made me wonder what arduous tasks the men pinned with the snake, knife, or sword symbol by their shoulder strap must have completed in order to earn their place in such a unit.

Before I had a chance to take in each symbol around me, a booming voice silenced everyone present, announcing a ten-minute warning until the commencement of the annual Tekes ceremony. I raced up a few stairs and a hill of grass only to be caught in a large group crowding around countless graves. A screaming siren sounded and suppressed every tear and gasp within miles. These 60 seconds of silence throughout the country brought soldiers of all ages and ranks to an attention stance of salute.

I stood next to men from the air force and navy, indicated by their tan and all-white uniforms, respectively. The voice over the speaker system began introducing prominent Israeli officials active in all sectors of government. From Prime Minister Netanyahu to IDF Chief Benny Gantz, numerous Jews offered their reflections and memories on this sad day. Finally, the Tekes ended with an emotional singing of Hatikvah by everyone and a ceremonial round of gunshots from current soldiers in memory of those who are no longer alive.

If Yom HaZikaron was the most depressing, melancholy day of the week, then Yom HaAtzmaut was the jubilant turning point that uplifted the downtrodden spirits of all. The night ending Yom HaZikaron saw an incalculable number of Jews traveling to Jerusalem by bus, train, and taxi to celebrate the inception of our homeland. Ultimately, however, many (including me) had to walk to town or wait in heavy traffic. The short walk to town afforded me the sight of a mass migration: sidewalks were not large enough to contain the influx of children, teenagers, parents, and grandparents as they all made their way toward Jerusalem. Whether your destination was a concert, the enormous street celebrations by Ben-Yehuda/Jaffo, or the Kotel, Jerusalem was the place to be. By taking a train and a cab and doing a lot of walking, I was able to experience all three.

The streets of Ben-Yehuda/Jaffo were packed with so many people that walking became an intermittent process made possible only through the abundance of guards clearing paths. I found that the bright lights, boutique shops, and small food stands created an incomparable aura of happiness and joy. Children ran through the streets spraying shaving cream and silly string at one another, oftentimes nailing a stranger, who only smiled and nodded at the sincere intentions of the younger generation. Corn on the cob, watermelon, and ices were sold every which way you turned. Flashing blue and white knickknacks, balloons, and assorted paraphernalia were everywhere. It was not uncommon to find a woman with dyed blue and white hair or a man in such a wig roaming the streets.

On my way to the Kotel, I passed a concert. Just outside the Old City walls stood thousands of young men and women dancing to the blasting music and blue-and-white outdoor strobe lights projected through monstrous stage equipment.

The Kotel was far less crowded and celebratory than I had anticipated, with only small groups dancing by the Wall. Unlike the diverse makeup of Jews running through the streets of Ben-Yehuda/Jaffo, those dancing at the Kotel wore either black and white or white and navy. The unconventional wigs and bright lights found no place in the Old City and instead were replaced by standard black hats and routine ancient infrastructure. My friends and I spent a considerable amount of time before the Wall that countless lives were lost fighting for.

We then turned back and continued out toward Ben-Yehuda/Jaffo, once again passing the radiant lights, blaring music, and ecstatic Jews dancing the night away. Despite the late hour (1 a.m.), children of all ages continued to fill the streets and the night was still young.

The following day, on Yom HaAtzmaut itself, our entire yeshiva took a tiyul to Shilo and walked the same land that lay beneath the Mishkan years ago. At our yeshiva, we had a large afternoon barbecue. We shared stories of celebrations we partook in the night before. Regardless of where one was, we all agreed that the vivacious nature of the night was omnipresent. I realized that Yom HaAtzmaut in Israel is truly indescribable. The celebratory atmosphere combines the appreciation of Thanksgiving, the fraternity of the Fourth of July, and the joy of Purim all rolled into one, yet yields something much greater. Through the grief and solemnity surrounding the country on Yom HaZikaron, everyone in Israel emerges joyful, proud, and appreciative in celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut the very next day. v

Max Fruchter, a recent graduate of DRS Yeshiva High School in the Five Towns, is now attending yeshiva in Jerusalem.

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