Yom Haatzmaut

Deep Inside, a Very Different Yom Haatzmaut

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We are standing a mere hours since Israel just celebrated its 76th Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day), and it was a very bittersweet one.

It’s not every day you celebrate a glorious holiday like this with such an immense cloud hanging over you. Yes, Israel exists. It’s free from the control of outside tyrannical forces. And a dream of thousands of years has been fulfilled.

But this is the first celebration of Yom Haatzmaut since the deadly and grotesque massacres of October 7th. This is the first celebration since the country’s equilibrium was thrown into turmoil by the worst attack on Israeli soil since the country came into existence. And it’s a hard holiday to come to terms with.

Joy Despite Tragedy

Yom Haatzmaut

Yes, I do believe a person needs to find happiness and joy despite the tragedies in their life. And even though we are six months later, which is nothing in the big picture, one cannot mourn a loss forever. Eventually normality must take over again, or humanity would not be able to function.

And some people toned things down to enough of a degree that it was obvious this year’s Yom Haatzmaut was not like others.

But to see my social media filled with celebrations in the heart of the city that looked like giant raves was hard for me. I’m not judging anyone involved. Everyone has the right to celebrate as they choose. And everyone’s coping mechanisms are different.

But for me personally, something just felt off seeing these pictures and videos.

Not the Dead or the Dying

Israel Independence Day

Oddly enough, it’s not because of the tragic deaths of October 7th. As I mentioned, we can’t walk around in a state of mourning forever. We need to return to the way we were before. Eventually. Work is work. Family is family. And they need to function, regardless of the past.

Nor is it because of the soldiers risking their lives every single day.

It’s not easy to say this. Or feel this. There’s something inherently qualitatively different about the deaths of soldiers versus those of civilians. It’s not that we don’t mourn the loss of a soldier. We most certainly do. It’s that the civilian’s death can be described as a senseless tragedy. But the soldier who falls defending Israel dies a hero. And they die performing the role they are assigned to at that moment.

They perish so that a nation can flourish in their memory. Every breath of air we take is in the merit of those who stand on the front lines to keep us safe.

Every breath of air we take is in the merit of those who stand on the front lines to keep us safe. Share on X

Their deaths are tragic. Beyond tragic. Devastating. Not to mention that in Israel the distinction between soldier and civilian is a lot less pronounced. All of them are our children or our friends’ and neighbors’ children. And they live and fight amongst us.

But something’s different.

We Need to Celebrate

Israel Independence Day

And many soldiers like to remind the general population that we should not feel guilty if we’re celebrating Yom Haatzmaut. In fact, quite the opposite. We should feel guilty if we choose not to celebrate!

Why? Because that’s why the many soldiers are charging into Gazan cities and risking their lives. If we don’t celebrate our independence, why are they there? If we’re not able to live our lives, to feel joy in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, then the soldier who might not come home tomorrow fights for nothing. And that could potentially be a tough pill to swallow.

So I get it. We should celebrate. We can’t mourn forever. And despite the horrors of war, we need to continuously enjoy the fruits of their efforts.

But the story doesn’t end there. If it did, I wouldn’t be as conflicted. And on Yom Haatzmaut I could have swallowed my delicious barbecue chicken and Arak with a little more glee.

But there still exists a group of people who continue to suffer. And who’s suffering comes with no benefits or glory.

Hard to Swallow

Yom Haatzmaut

And it should give us pause. We should struggle to swallow the delicious holiday foods when we remember that somewhere buried in tunnels deep in Gaza there are scores of innocent Israelis who don’t know what day it is. And that is very much the least of their problems.

The hostages taken on October 7th are not something we can stop thinking about. There’s no proper defense mechanism that helps one forget the horrors someone is facing this very minute.

While we dance in the streets, there can be a small child who hasn’t seen the light of day for months. A father who is being beaten relentlessly for the “crime” of living in Israel. A soldier who doesn’t know if he’ll ever taste his mom’s cooking again.

They sit starving and terrified, without any knowledge of what the next day will bring. Progressively giving up hope that someone will miraculously rescue them. Wondering whether they will just wither in the spot they lay until their final day.

They are not heroes, in the traditional sense. They gained fame and notoriety not because of their actions, but because of the wicked deeds of others. In a heartbeat they would choose to be anonymous once again.

They just want to go home. They want to leave their terror and start their healing. And never think about Hamas, ever again.

And we eat burgers. Drink some wine. Sing some songs. And put the horror of reality as far into the back of our minds as possible, lest we not be able to rise from our beds in the morning, let alone gleefully celebrate yet another year of independence.

A Very Different Yom Haatzmaut

Yom Haatzmaut

This Yom Haatzmaut isn’t like others.

Israel’s independence is worthy of celebration. But it’s also worthy of recognizing that we are not where we want to be. Not where we need to be.

We can’t defend ourselves without the world screaming at us for genocide. We can’t successfully protect our borders.

And in six months we haven’t brought our children back home.

It’s so easy to be jovial. To put all of these terrors in the back of our mind.

For a day.

But it’s still there. It’s always there. And that nagging voice that tells us all that we’re not OK doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

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