As the sun set in the sky yesterday, leaving Israel blanketed in the most beautiful colors, it signaled the start of one of the country's most somber national holidays: Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance day. Beginning at around 6 o'clock last evening all stores all over the country began to close, including those that are usually open 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week like AM PM, and busses and all other forms of public transport ceased to continue running. Unfortunately I am a commuter who has a late class on Wednesdays that ends around 6 so I was especially lucky that a good friend in my program happened to drive to class and he was able to give me a lift home.
As I was walking to my apartment from the spot where I was dropped off down the road I couldn't help but notice how the entirety of Tel Aviv is currently adorned with Israeli flags, cars drive around proudly displaying the flag in their window's, balconies are covered in Israeli Blue and White, and, with the holidays of Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance day for fallen soldiers), and Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israeli independence day) rapidly approaching, you can feel, more than usual, the patriotism, pride, and love, everyone has for this country.
When I woke up this morning I quickly readied myself for the day (I overslept a bit so "quickly" readied myself is a bit of an understatement) and ventured out to central Tel Aviv for my appointment at Misrad Haklitah (Ministry of Immigrant Absorption) to finalize my monetary absorption packet! YAY MONEY! However, when I scheduled the appointment, weeks ago, I did not realize I made the appointment during Yom Hashoah, and I was very sad thinking that there was a chance I would miss being outside during the national siren. My appointment was for 9:30 am which, in Israel, means no earlier than 9:45... The siren was scheduled to go off around 10am so as I was waiting for my absorption counselor I lost all hope of seeing the scene outside on the streets during the alarm. Around 9:45 I was finally called in and within 10 minutes I was finished and jetting out onto busy Dizengoff street. Though Israeli's are usually late I can't deny that they get things done REALLY, REALLY fast once you actually begin.
As I was walking around Dizengoff waiting for the alarm on this absolutely gorgeous, picture perfect day, I began to think about what the experience would be like. I have never been in Israel for a national siren (they sound on Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron), and had little to no idea of what to expect. I was told that all cars stop, everyone gets out of their vehicles, no one moves or speaks, people come out of buildings and offices, and the country completely stops for the 2 minute siren. I thought to myself "surely there are some cars that still drive, or people who walk around and carry on with their daily activities", I also had my doubts about the ability of everyone to hear the siren, but all of my reservations, and doubts were soon put to rest as I experienced one of the most powerful events of my entire life...
At exactly 10:05 am, as I was standing on the corner of Dizengoff and Frishman, the air filled with the sound of a very powerful, single toned, high pitched siren. Almost the second the siren began every single car, bus, sherut, and motorcycle on the road came to a complete standstill regardless of it's position on the road, and all of the passengers exited to stand next to their vehicles. Everyone on the sidewalks came to a complete halt, turned towards the streets and, though the alarm was ringing loudly, you could cut the silence with a knife; the people looked like statutes: unmoving, unspeaking, seeming to not even breathe.
I was frozen in my tracks completely overwhelmed by what I was seeing and experiencing. An entire country standing as frozen as stone statutes, observing 2 minutes of silence to honor and commemorate the 6,000,000 Jews and 11,000,000 people in total who perished at the hands of the Nazis in the Holocaust. There was not a single movement on one of the busiest streets in Tel Aviv, and the fact that I was able to be in the middle of this was a testament to the fact that fate was, yet again, on my side. As I was staring out towards the people standing next to their cars, with hundreds of Israeli flags waving in the windy background, I could do nothing but shed tears. It is hard to describe the power of what I was witnessing and I didn't dare move to take a video or picture (the picture above was taken from the internet after the fact). Nothing could capture the true intensity of this moment, and even if the desire to film was there I was physically incapable of any movement; I could hardly breathe as it was I was so overwhelmed.
After what seemed like 2 very long minutes the sirens shut off, people re-entered their cars and vehicles, and life resumed as if the previous moments were a figment of imagination. I was left standing on the corner greatly needing a minute to process the event that just took place. As I was remembering the 6,000,000 of my people who perished at the hands of bitter hate and prejudice, I was hit by such a sense of pride, awe, and astonishment as I realized where I was and what it meant to be here. I was standing on a crowded street in the heart of the Jewish homeland surrounded by hundreds and thousands of people who share with me one of the most special pieces of my entire being; Judaism. I was in one of our holiest places in the world, created to keep the Jewish people safe, thriving, and prosperous in the face of overwhelming hate and prejudice issued from all corners of the globe, and I was able to see a whole country stop to remember those who were taken from this world and in whose memory were planted the seeds that grew into this beautiful, amazing country that I, today, am lucky to call my home.
Below is a video taken from youtube of someone recording what I was experiencing:
Every day I wake up thanking God for all the blessings that have led me here to Israel, and I have never felt more honored to be a citizen of this incredible country than I do at this very moment. I am tied to this place in ways that go far beyond the mere fun I have and the excitement of my life here, and it is as if I am sewn to this place by the threads of history, ancestry, religion, and faith. I wanted to run away from my home in the States to come to Israel to find myself, be free, and experience everything new and exciting, and in the process I not only found myself, but I strengthened myself (and continue strengthening myself), found independence, fell madly in love with a place and a land, and created a new home for myself that I will grow in and carve out my adult life in. Who could want anything more. I have been profoundly blessed.
Until we meet again <3,