New parenting level unlocked: Israeli school children on Yom HaZicaron

Here’s the scene. A mother is playing out her son’s childhood through a laundry metaphor. First the onesie. Then the tzitzit. School uniform shirt. Pants. Teenager jeans. Button down shirt. Army tzitzit.

When she gets to the army uniform, there’s a ‘knock at the door.’ She sees the soldier. She crumples. He salutes. She cries into her son’s uniform.

This is the opening performance at my first grader’s school’s memorial ceremony for Yom HaZikaron.

New level of Israeli parenting unlocked.

I had arrived just a little early, to find my boy, and offer him a hat. I had forgotten to give him one and we’re out in the sun. I wave at him and gesture with the hat. He smiles and shakes his head. None of his buddies are wearing hats. Of course.

I’m watching this scene, this bat sherut (an 18-20 year old doing her national service) play out this ‘knock at the door’ scene – the same kind of scene Prime Minister Bibi described himself going through today. She’s playing this scene that her friends’ parents may or may not experience in the coming months. There’s been the stink of warmongering in the air. The soldier who knocks at the door is a boy I’ve known since he was a toddler. He’s in fifth grade.

I look at my son; I can only see the back of him. He’s whispering with his friend. The back of his neck is turning red from the sun. He’s so light-skinned.

When he’s in the army, will he remember sunscreen? Will he just burn all the time?

I’m watching the older grade school kids sing and speak of the dead. I’m watching the other grade school kids watch this, sitting cross-legged on the basketball court. The kids all look so serious. The older kids carry out their roles with a deep sense of urgency.

I’m looking around. There are kids here I’ve known since they were babies. Ten months. Two years. They are tall, skinny things now. Messy hair. Toothy smiles. Quick glances at their moms in the back row.

There are places my kids will go where there won’t be any sunscreen. Decisions they’ll have to make where there won’t be a right one. I won’t be there in that moment. That’s the reality, I suppose, of making the decision to create children. You just understand it way too late. When it hits, you’re too deep in love. You’ll never not feel this twisted pain again. Ever.

After the knock at the door, I look around at the other parents and notice we are all crying. A few of us are immigrants. Many lived through this as students, siblings, and soldiers too.

My son’s still whispering with his best friend. Two seven-year-old boys in knit kippot, scruffy hair, white school t-shirts.

Seven years in, here we are.

We’ve only just begun.

Visiting and storytelling at Har Herzl on Israel’s Memorial Day

A colleague who visits children of friends and neighbors, acquaintances and others at Har Herzl every year invited some of us to join him today on Israeli Memorial Day. I had never been there on Yom HaZicaron itself, so the experience was new.

There’s a lot to see and hear. High school students. Scouts. Foreign students. Next generation soldiers. Career soldiers.

And family, family, and more family.

We’re getting to the point where there aren’t going to be many people left who remember fighting in 1948. Their gravesites are slightly less occupied by visitors.

I had never really given much thought to the last olim pre-independence; they escaped from Hitler’s Europe, came off the boats in 1947, and stepped straight into ‘uniform’. And of course, many many fell in 1948, fighting for the right to freedom they had lacked only a year before:

Below, this Nissim was a runner for the Jewish army, based in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1948 – locked in and fighting to bridge the sides.

He was show by an enemy sniper, who found a hole in the sandbags – shot right in his own home.

He was also ten years old.

In this pool rest the memories of 140 soldiers who fell to the sea.

And then – this happened.

Mrs. Aharoni comes every year to visit her brother-in-law’s grave. He fell in 1948. She worries about who will visit when she’s gone.

My colleague met her here one year; he had brought his son to show him who came before him in fighting for this land; they asked her for her story. And promised to visit Yehuda Aharoni’s grave every year, so she wouldn’t have to worry that no one would come after her. He started coming ever since.

Last year she didn’t show and he assumed, perhaps, the worst.

As we started walking from the site, we saw a woman being lifted in her wheelchair towards our direction.

Mrs. Aharoni appeared. And my colleague was there. And so were we. So now we’ve heard her story from her.

And we are here, too.

 

Yom HaZicaron 5774: A little boy asking questions

This evening at the Yom HaZicaron memorial service, my son asked a lot of questions.

‘Who is that boy?’ ‘Who is he talking about?’ ‘His older brother died?’

He asked me to explain what every speaker was talking about. I did.

It made me strongly consider how I’ll look back fondly in thirteen years at this time, at this moment while he is sitting on my lap, his little boy face gazing toward the dark stage, his ears perked up, his eyelids eventually drooping closed, this little boy cuddled in my lap, our legs intertwined,

these moments when he was just a little boy asking questions.

The innocent on Memorial Day.

I told Koala he could come with me to the Yom HaZicaron ceremony if he likes. I told him it’s a time where we remember all the soldiers and all the good things they do for us.

“And if you want, during the siren, you can think about your uncle who is a chayal, or zayde who was a long time ago.”

“I want to think about them and all the chayalim.”

After the siren, I asked him if he had thought about the chayalim. He told me he  forgot, he was “thinking about other things.”

That’s ok. He’s four.

Here’s to innocence.

Yom HaZicaron in Tzur Hadassah

My own personal tekes.

For the past few years I’ve been home on Yom HaZicaron and I’ve sat on my mirpeset and listened to the tekes that goes on the school down below. Tzur Hadassah, from my home’s perspective, is a giant amphitheater, so I hear some of it pretty well.

So without yet having my children there, I stand with the students and teachers during the siren, I let  their speeches waft into my head, and I sing HaTikvah with them as we end the tekes.

Every year it gets more intense as my kid gets closer and closer in age to attending school and being a part of these ceremonies, dressed in blue and white, singing in the chorus.

The siren sounds, I stand, my legs are a little more wobbly. My heart beats a little faster. My eyes are a bit wetter.

Every year it gets more intense as my kids delve deeper and deeper into Israeli society, swallowed up by blue and white, consumed by Hebrew, and one day, drafted to serve our country in the IDF.

Still here.

It confuses me that about one half of myself can’t believe we’re still here, and can’t believe things will continue the way they are – growing, productive, surviving… and the other half of myself thinks, look at the progress! Look at how far we’ve come, and how far we’re poised to go! We build buildings made from bricks and cement – no more tents, no more temporary!

But… bricks and cement can be bombed, other half of me argues. Nothing is really permanent. What’s 63 years? In fact, what’s 5,771 years in the grand scheme of things?

But… somehow, it keeps going, second half says. There’s something stronger than time that keeps it going.

Family outing, Memorial Day, contributing, Israel.

Proud that we managed to dress, pack up, and transport the kids to the Yom HaZicaron tekes in Tzur Hadassah tonight. And that my two-year-old stayed silent and un-startled throughout the siren. And that we managed to stay for the first 15 minutes.

Watching all those kids socialize up until they suddenly stopped for the siren… made me realize the enormity of what I’m contributing here. And what here is contributing to me.

It scares the shit out of me. But there’s no where else to be.

Note for next year: Teach my son that after the siren is over, it’s not a cause for shouting “Yay! Yay!”