Every spring brings a whipsaw of emotion to the American-Israeli peace-advocate Jew living in self-imposed exile (me, if you were wondering).
Every spring, I launch my Passover preparations with a combined loathing of cleaning, all-purpose laziness, and overwhelming longing for home — and anger at the Israeli policies that inspired my husband and me to choose the Diaspora over home. This invariably crests on the day of the Seder, as I get weepy over boxes of matza and the recipes of beloved Tel Aviv friends, and then it passes, more or less, as the trial of the cleaning fades and my little family revels in our own little Pesach traditions. I engage with the Divine, I feel a special joy.
A week later it’s back to bread, to the everyday — and I think (every year) that the roller coaster is behind me.
Then a few days pass, and suddenly it’s Holocaust Day. Almost without noticing, I sink into a kind of numb horror, a boundless grief, listening to Israeli radio, reading the memories of the millions lost, weeping off and on all day it seems, slowly emerging as the sun sets and our yahrzeit candle burns low. Again, I long to be with my people, and internally rage at the reasons that I find myself a stranger in a strange land.
And then I think it’s passed.
And then a week later — today, in fact — it’s Israeli Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron, which fades at sunset into Israeli Independence Day, Yom HaAtzmaut. And as much as I don’t know how to process Passover and Holocaust Day and the emotions they bring, Memorial Day and Independence Day bring with them an entirely different degree of difficulty.
I refuse to disallow my people their right to their pain, or to their joy. Children, husbands, sisters, mothers killed in war and terrorist actions are losses as enormous as they are incomprehensible — and all over the world, people celebrate their national days. When (please God) Palestine is established, the Palestinians, too, will celebrate, and I know that among the heroes celebrated will be people responsible for great suffering among Israelis. This is the way of peoples. Heroes are very rarely shared.
And that is, I suppose, the reason for the maelstrom of emotion that overcomes me every year. I refuse to disallow the Palestinians the right to their pain or their narrative, either. I cannot simply mourn and celebrate with my people — indeed, on a personal level, I cannot celebrate at all.
I’ve said it before, many times (my fear, frankly, is that I’ll never get to not say it) but: Our joy came at the expense of someone else’s bottomless pain, and we have yet to acknowledge, much less deal with, that fact. Our anthem sticks in my throat, our stories of heroism echo with all they fail to reveal. I can’t be happy.
I remember the last Independence Day we spent in Israel, in 1998. All around us, Israel was giddily celebrating its 50th anniversary, but the husband and I gathered with friends of similar political stripe on our back porch, baking potatoes in this potato-baking device that made them taste as if they’d emerged from a bonfire — and we complained. Complained and complained and complained, with real, palpable pain and longing for a country in which we could believe. I remember saying that Israel was like a really smart, really attractive 13 year old — knowing its charms and thinking itself fully matured, the country was behaving like a dangerously overgrown, spoiled child.
When Palestine exists, on maps and in the UN, when Israel has made a just peace with its neighbors and attempted to address the tremendous, nearly incalculable damage it has caused the Palestinian people — then I’ll be able to genuinely celebrate.
Until then, I’ll continue to mournfully hang two flags from my front porch, no doubt to the befuddlement of my American neighbors — two flags on Yom HaZikaron/Yom HaAtzmaut (which follow the Hebrew calendar) and two flags on May 15, when Palestinians commemorate Yawm al-Nakba, Day of the Catastrophe, the day the UN declared the partition of Palestine. I will deny the experiences of neither people, so every year, both flags fly.
It’s not much. But it feels honest. And some days that can be its own achievement.
As I sat down to write something about Memorial/Independence Day, I read last year’s post and realized: Nothing has changed. Not a thing. To the extent that anything is different, in my emotions or in the circumstances I describe, it’s just More — more of the same. So, unable to bring myself to find a new way to write the same mournful things, I slightly edited and re-upped last year’s. I’m sorry. Maybe next year there will be new words to write.