Sirens and fireworks

After a lot of cajoling, Philippe and I finally succeeded in getting the girls out of the house. The goal was to get to Yad Lebanim in the center of town in time for the erev Yom HaZikaron (eve of Memorial Day) ceremony. With helmets on and bikes in our hands, we stood single file ready to march out the front gate when we were stilled. The country-wide, two-minute siren, signaling the beginning of the holiday, had begun. We bowed our heads in silence and waited.

As soon as it ended, we opened the gate and sped off into the dark, quiet streets. Very few cars were out and houses looked dark. More and more people started to gather on the streets and sidewalks near the city center and busses and trucks blocked off the main road on all sides of Yad Lebanim.  We parked our bikes and walked toward the masses, passing through security gates and guards.

A male voice boomed over the loudspeaker and the building was lit up similarly to last week’s Yom HaShoah ceremony with different colored lights and images of war cast off the walls. Large screens were set up for people to see from a distance. Since we had arrived a few minutes late and since there were so many people, we couldn’t even approach the seating area closer to the podium. Instead, we stood back, in the middle of the street, the four of us among thousands.

And then the MC began to read the names of fallen soldiers from Raanana. As he recited them one by one, the soldier’s photo, unit, date of death, age at time of death appeared on the wall behind. The greatest losses were in October 1973, the Yom Kippur War. As the years passed and more female soldiers began to enter into different combat units, they fell too. After the soldiers, a new screen appeared, in Hebrew, indicating that the following names and photos were of those who had lost their lives due to acts of terror: an 84-year-old man, a 5-year-old girl, and so on.  Each year a Raanana resident who has lost a son/daughter/spouse soldier is asked to come to the podium and place a wreath on a memorial. We watched as a woman was escorted. We listened as prayers were recited and sad songs were sung.

After an hour, the girls nudged us to go. It was a school night and they still had homework to do. Upon arriving home, it was business as usual with work and backpacks and bedtime routines.

The next day was a noon dismissal from school and most schools held Memorial Day assemblies or ceremonies to commemorate the holiday. Anyone who has lost a soldier typically spends the day visiting army bases or cemeteries or families of soldiers who have fallen to pay their respects. Daniella and Simone left for school, Philippe stayed home to work and I went to Ella Yoga for a 9:30am class.

The teacher, a sub, introduced herself and spoke briefly about how important it is to listen to the body and that since the siren would sound at 11am she would end class a few minutes early so that we could collect ourselves and either stay inside or go out. We warmed up and then flowed. At 10:57, I opened my eyes after shivasana, sat up, rolled my mat and noticed that most of the others were doing the same. Quietly, we left the room. I took my baseball cap and camera, covered myself with a long-sleeved shirt to shield against the sun and walked outside. More and more yogis were coming out of the studio, aiming for a place to stand and reflect on the boardwalk. Some stood together, others alone. There were fishermen sitting on the pier with their poles hanging over, mothers and babies strolling by, an elderly man in a wheelchair being pushed by a helper, bike riders. Off in the distance, I spotted a group of men bobbing in the water, finally warm enough to enter. 

The siren began and I turned my back to the studio to look down at the water. I watched the waves come and go and thought about all the lives that had come and gone in the past 64 years. I thought about the number of men and women that had fought for this tiny country, first for its independence from the British then for peace with its neighbors. And how that fight is a cycle of never-ending-ness with times of quiet and times of war. Coming and going.

Back home, after school, the girls were frantically making plans for the huge party in Raanana Park for Israel Independence Day that night. The phone rang nonstop as they worked out the details of who was meeting where, arriving when, eating what. In the end, Simone was going to the park with a group of girls from school and sleeping over at someone’s house and had a midnight curfew. Daniella had a friend sleeping over and were meeting up with others before going to the park, and we gave them a 2am curfew. They were either going by foot or on the free busses traveling up and down the main street all night. Later that afternoon, Benjamin returned home from basic training and kept to himself, opting out of the park festivities. Philippe and I left for a falafel buffet at synagogue and from there, to the park with friends, also abandoned by their teenage children.

There was no siren to indicate the end of the day of sadness and loss and the beginning of the day of celebration, parties, barbeques, hiking. It just happened as the sun dropped over to the other side of the horizon and the moon rose. As night fell, the veil of heaviness was lifted and the mood of the city changed.

As we walked west toward the park, more and more people joined the crowded sidewalks. Restaurants and mini markets were open for those who chose to spend the evening on their own. By 9m, the park was brimming with people, young families with kids eating popcorn and cotton candy, drunk teenagers, girls linking arms. People sold chatchkies that light up and Israeli flags as well as soft drinks and snacks. There were two stages with live music and a bungee jumping area. At 10, we found a relatively secluded spot, sat and watched the fireworks as they lit up the sky.  After an hour of wandering aimlessly and looking for our girls, who we never saw, we headed home to watch TV and go to bed.  

Thursday was lazy and filled with more comings and goings as we retrieved Simone, Daniella’s friend left and Benjamin’s girlfriend arrived. That afternoon, we rode bikes with the girls to our friends’ house for a BBQ in their backyard. It was low-key and a perfect way to spend the afternoon. The holidays are over—for now—and in another 24 hours it will all feel as if it never happened.


Leave a Comment

2 Responses to “Sirens and fireworks”

  1. Mom/Grandma Marianne April 30, 2012 at 5:59 am #

    All this can only happen in Israel. As usual, well observed and documented. love

    • Jennifer Lang May 6, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

      I think it was a little too dry in the telling… next time I’ll be more creative…,

Leave a Reply