It starts off as a low rumbling felt in your intestines, almost like a premonition although you know the precise time it will begin its wailing, and rises in a discordant crescendo calling everyone and everything, people, cars, trees, clouds, and moon to stand still a moment to remember loved ones, friends, and those you don’t know but who touched you with their stories, who fell trying to protect our country or were killed for no other reason than that they loved and walked in our country.
During the minute or two that the siren wails across our land, there is time to think your thoughts or just to be carried along on its waves as on an ocean of sadness. I had two thoughts during the wailing.
The first thought was one that comes back to me every year since I came to this country back in 1978, about the cognitive dissonance that Israelis must feel when their Memorial Day, a day of mourning, licking one’s wounds, transmogrifies, changes key from a minor key to a major key, as immediately following the end of Memorial Day ceremonies, our Independence Day festivites begin and we whip out our plastic boppers, foam spray, and firecrackers. I have a feeling that those who truly mourn, those who have had a loved one amputated from their lives, do not or can’t switch emotions, like masks, so fast, that those who do move on from mourning to joyous festivities, never truly mourned. Maybe I would feel differently about this if the order were swapped: first celebrate our Independence Day and then, immediately following, commemorate our Memorial Day. That might make us better understand the cost of our independence . Maybe the true mourners would feel more consoled seeing their compatriots coming towards them than seeing them move on.
My second thought was about a joint Memorial Day ceremony of Israeli and Palestinan mourners who acknowledge the pain of those living on both sides and brings together Israeli and Palestinian families bereaved by the conflict, that has been going on for the last 14 years, albeit in spite of many obstacles and bitter contention (https://www.israelhayom.com/2019/05/06/supreme-court-rules-palestinians-may-attend-joint-memorial-day-event/). Although we have a saying that one should not judge a person in the moment of his or her grief, some Israelis have attacked those participating in this ceremony rather than allowing them their legitimate expression of grief. I have seen pictures of Israelis consoling Palestinian mourners and vice-versa. I sincerely hope this annual ceremony continues and attracts even more mourners from both sides because, only then can the people on both sides demand peace from their leaders. Don’t get me wrong on this score. I don’t believe the joint Memorial Day ceremony can merge with or replace the State Memorial Day ceremony because the purposes are not the same. The State ceremony is meant to praise acts of heroism against enemies, acts of ultimate sacrifice for the common good and for brothers in arms, and the purity of our cause. The joint Israeli-Palestinian ceremony is meant to find common ground and to empathize, if not with our enemies, then with the parents, spouses, and children of our enemies, to console them and to allow ourselves to be consoled, and to express hope for a time when we will know war between us no longer and forget there ever was.
Both Memorial Day ceremonies are legitimate and serve their purposes, but maybe one day in the not so distant future they will not be necessary.