This time of year in Israel is often uncomfortable for me.
I won’t say difficult, because it seems highly inappropriate to label anything in my life as “difficult” in the same breath as I speak of the Holocaust, of war, of fallen youth.
But it’s uncomfortable.
In very quick succession, we here in Israel — we being newspaper-reading adults and school-going children — are inundated with Holocaust-related content, followed quickly and intensively by war-related content.
This is the time of year when Israelis mark why we are Israeli, and not Jews of the Diaspora.
It’s important, Yom HaShoah. It is. Benji Lovitt says it better than I could why Holocaust education is important even in a country saturated both by memory and study of the atrocity.
Yom HaZikaron, the day we remember Israel’s fallen soldiers is important, too. Especially in a country that still has compulsory military service; in a country where soldiers still fall, even those who aren’t in active duty.
But as someone who is not connected directly to the Holocaust (in that I do not have a known blood relative who was killed or who survived the camps); and as someone not connected directly to Israel’s wars for survival (I did not serve in the army, nor has anyone I know personally fallen in service, thank God), I often find myself feeling more dissonance than patriotism during these weeks of remembrance.
And inside that dissonance is the very bad taste of shame. The shame of survival, I think. Those of us who didn’t experience the Holocaust personally, or grow up with a parent who survived; those of us who didn’t serve in the army: We are not without survivor’s guilt, survivor’s shame, so it seems.
Or at least, I am not.
And it is during these few weeks in Israel that I face this.
It bubbles up as an awkwardness, as an inauthenticity. I’m tempted to stay home during the small ceremonies on Hannaton marking these solemn days. I am even tempted to stay home on Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s joyous Independence Day) because I feel as much an outsider on that holiday, if not more, than on the others. I don’t yet — and may never — feel that overwhelming sensation that “this land is mine, God gave this land to me.”
But this is how I face my awkwardness, my shame. It’s simple:
I show up.
Last night, for the first time in our three years living here, I showed up to the Yom HaShoah ceremony, much of which I didn’t understand because the survivor accounts were in a Hebrew a little too over my head.
I also stand up.
Just like everyone else, just like my boys dressed in white today, just like the businessmen in suits driving down the highway to meetings in Tel Aviv at 10 am, I stood up when the sirens wailed.
And I will again next week when they wail for Yom HaZikaron.
I show up and I stand up. And I think that’s pretty much all one can do when one is not really sure what to do.
Honor the fallen. Honor the memories. Honor the tradition.