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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut ... A truly mind blowing experience ... oh, and i made ALIYAH!

I really don't even know how or where to start writing this blog post ... the emotions I have felt over the last few days have been so incredibly powerful and overwhelming, I will try and encapsulate them within this blog post but it will be hard.

On the night of the 4th is the start of one of the saddest days in Israel, Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day).Yom Hazikaron is a day which affects every single Israeli in a very personal manner - given the minute size of Israel and given that joining the army is compulsory, every Israeli knows someone who was killed, either in military service or in terrorist attacks. This fact makes the night of the 4th and the day of the 5th a truly sad day within Israel. I attended a Masa Ceremony in Latrun, a place infamous for a number of battles between the IDF and Jordanian forces. The ceremony was put together extremely well and the Israeli scouts who performed were unbelievable. The ceremony focused on people who came from abroad to Israel and payed the ultimate sacrifice during their service in the army, of course something which resonated with me more than ever especially given the choices I am making at the moment. It very quickly hit me that this time next year, I will be one of those soldiers, putting my life on the line for the Jewish state, just like all those before me. The emotions I felt and the thoughts that went through my head were extremely powerful. At no point was I nervous, hearing these stories of fallen soldiers, instead I was proud, proud that I could finally give back to all those soldiers who have been killed in order for me to live where I am living today, proud that I will finally wear the same uniform that those who have passed wore and proud to fight for a country which I and all those before me truly believe has a right to exist. I wrote this Facebook status following the ceremony ...

"Tonight and tomorrow is Yom Hazikaron. Remembrance day for all those who have lost their lives serving for Israel or in terrorist attacks. The ultimate sacrifice has been made by 23,169 Israeli's who perished in order to ensure the future of the Jewish state which I now call home. Being at a ceremony tonight and marking this incredibly emotional day for Israeli's was extremely poignant for me given that I am currently in the process of making Aliyah (Moving to Israel) and if all goes to plan, this will be my last Yom Hazikaron as a citizen as next year i will most likely be a solider on base guarding the flame that burns in order to remember those that fell. I thank those that gave everything for the future of the Jewish state and I am proud to say that if all goes to plan I will finally be able to give back to you and ensure the continuation, security and survival of the Jewish state for years to come. YIZKOR"

The following day, still Yom Hazikaron, I walked to Rothschild Boulevard to hear the 2 minute siren that blasts throughout Israel. The siren allows everyone to take 2 minutes out of their day in order to commemorate those who have perished. No matter what people are doing, driving, walking, drinking in a coffee shop and so on, everyone and everything stops. Cars stop in the middle of the street and the driver gets out and stands, everyone in the coffee shops stops their chatter and stands, everyone throughout Israel at the same exact time completely stops to remember the brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, cousins who have fallen. It is an amazingly powerful experience, and once the 2 minute siren ends, normality ensues. In those 2 minutes I believe I see exactly why the Israeli people are so special. During the siren they grieve and once its over its as if nothing happened, Israeli's are experts at just getting on with life and I respect that a lot. I recorded the 2 minute siren as I believe it is very important for people around the world to see. Whilst i faced some criticism from people for not being respectful, I explained why I had done it and that it is important to show the world this side of Israel. I have since been proven right and have had a number of non-Jews write to me telling me how powerful it was to see how everyone stopped to respect the fallen. For me, that shows the importance of the video I took because if I have changed even one person's view, which I know I have, then that's a good thing for Israel. I wont post the video on here in case it will offend others, but rest assured that the video was taken with the utmost respect and with only good intentions at heart.

My cousin called me during the day and offered me a ticket to the Yom Haatzmaut ceremony on Har Herzl later that evening. Given that this is a free, invite only event, I jumped at the opportunity to attend such a prestigious night - the official ceremony distinguishing Yom Hazikaron from Yom Haatzmaut, highlighting the transition from a genuine grief and mourning to genuine joy and happiness. The ceremony started with the entrance of the flags of all the units of the IDF, Shiri Maimon a famous Israeli singer performed the song Et Pree Ganech absolutely beautifully. Every time I listen to it i get goosebumps. You can watch her performance here and here is a link to the lyrics . Whilst she was singing I was almost moved to tears. Over the last day the emotions I had felt were so empowering it really solidified my decision and made me realise just how much I want to pursue this dream and give back to the State of Israel and all of its fallen soldiers. The ceremony continued, paying particular focus to the role of mothers and women within Israeli society. Along with a number of Flag processions and performances and other moving musical interludes, the way in which the somber atmosphere changed to one of joy, pride and happiness was mind blowing. People so quickly go from grieving the loss of a loved one to celebrating the existence of our state. The two go hand in hand, this country is supported by those that gave their lives to allow it to exist, it is a simple fact that if these people had not served in order to defend Israel, it would not exist. Therefore, come Yom Haatzmaut it is time to celebrate, to prove to those that perished that it was not in vain and that the survival and the continuation of the Jewish people rests in our hands and next year, rests in mine.Perhaps one of the more powerful moments of the night was at the end where everyone ran onto the square and started dancing, young and old, soldiers and civilians, professional dancers from the show and ... me, with two left feet. Everyone shared in the collective happiness and it was amazing to see! One of the moments that really touched me is when I saw a young Israeli soldier girl take the hand of an old Israeli man and start dancing with him, the happiness on both their faces told a thousand words. Another amazing moment was seeing a group of Israeli soldiers start dancing and taking photographs with a young child in a wheelchair. He was elated to be surrounded and dancing with Israeli soldiers and yet in this moment these amazingly revered Israeli soldiers, showed how they were just normal Israeli teenagers who just want to have a good time! I cannot fully express the dichotomy between the transition form absolute sadness to contagious happiness but it is something I implore every Jew, in particular, every Zionist to experience.

Firework and Soldier Selfie with the Cousins
I came back to Tel Aviv that night and couldn't stop talking about the ceremony, describing the dancing on Har Herzl and people couldn't understand how people were dancing in a cemetery right by Herzl's grave. This never really crossed my mind at the time and when I had a second to think about it, I truly believe that dancing in the square leading up to Herzl's grave where the ceremony took place is the ultimate realisation of his dream. Everyone at this event was a true zionist, a true believer in the existence of the State of Israel, how better to thank Herzl himself by showing him his legacy lives on. This thought empowered me even more, there really is no place like Israel. It might be hard here, but its home, and everyone really is family here. Once I arrived back to Tel Aviv I met up with a group of my Garin and went around Tel Aviv to different bars. The area I live, Florentine, was packed, you literally could not move. It was a great night. The next day I woke up and went to see the Fly-by at the beach. Unfortunately, the sky was extremely hazy but one could still see the aircraft's over head. Every time they flew by everyone cheered them on ... a moment where you truly feel the support Israel has for its army/air force etc. and a real show of strength. The beach was absolutely mobbed and everyone is happy, and drinking and having a BBQ right at the start of the day. From the beach I made my way to two different street parties, both of which were extremely fun. I had my fair share of meat and alcohol and celebrated like a true Israeli for the rest of the day!

Street Party! 

Me and Maya from my Garin

Me and Alec from my Garin and WUJS Girls

This blog post has taken me a while to write because i have been trying to really think about how I feel with everything and I still dont believe i have got everything down, but i can tell you that the day after Yom Haatzmaut became the day I became a real Israeli. After sitting in Misrad Hapnim for 6 hours i received my Teudah Zehut! I became Israeli! My dream is now real, I will be fighting for this country, I will serve it and I will protect it. Nothing helped me come to this decision more than Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut. Words cant describe the feeling here, i can only tell you that you have to come here and experience it for yourself!!!

Wishing you all the best and looking forward to writing my future blog posts for you! I haven't said much about making Aliyah because for me it was fairly straightforward but I will touch upon it and how I feel to be Israeli in future posts!

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