Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pride grows in sacrifice.

Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem sounds different here than it does in America. But so does Kaddish with thousands of others on Yom Hazikaron. The transition from Israeli Memorial Day to the following day of Yom Haautzmaut, Israeli Independence Day is an awareness very unique to this complex county. The pride and sadness embedded into the tears of remembering our fallen soldiers and victims of terror ignite the fire of celebration hours later. 

Masa Gap Year programs holds an annual commemorative service that deeply infuses personal stories into the start of Yom Hazikaron. Tears flood with awe of soldiers that made Alyiah to protect their home, that were killed while saving civilians in terrorist attacks, who donated their lives in exchange for saving their unit from a bomb, women whose leadership and joy of life reverberated throughout the battlefront. I shiver not from the cold of changing weather in Latrun, but from my understanding of nationhood pulsing through my body. The next day at Har Herzl, we silently stand for the siren along with the entire county. The tombstones read the Jewish names and young ages of the greatest people I will never meet. Their valor and strength tightens my love of Israel as I hear stories from their families of the lives they lived. 

If one were to play word association, I would bet American Memorial Day answers would include BBQing and huge sales. But in Israel, the prayer to elevate the memory of our bravest individuals wins. And it is no coincidence that the calendar accurately gives credit to the foundation of our country right before the celebration of what their accomplishments build.

The elation of Yom Haautzmaut brings on a different set of tears. I think back to how passive I felt in Poland as a Jew, needing to hold close to my Israeli flag for comfort. Here in Israel, in the streets of Neve Aliza, the yeshuv Rabbi Berglas and Vicky established, in the circle of my school, I dance with my flag; with my heart waving in the air. Dizzy from spinning with my love for Israel, I pause and simply hold up the flag, watching it dance in the breeze. Her movement does not depend on me, I am just the lucky one honored to uplift her in her splendor. We sing praise for the miracle of independence in our generation, enumerating the involvement of our creator reaching out to us, beckoning us to seize the purposeful opportunity. My gratitude blooming in understanding of our romantic relationship with Hashem twirls around my blue and white tie dye skirt and as I breathe in my first Yom Haautzmaut in the Eretz, I smile in excitement of many more to come. 

Being part of the chain of Judaism means that my segment is stronger than previous; not from my own merits, but from the sheer gravity of earlier sacrifices. I can casually sit on the walls of Chevron- the same exact stones that scared the 10 spies, punishing my ancestors in the desert to die out a generation and wander for 40 years before taking another look at the wall with a refreshed view- not because of my own trust in Hashem helping me conquer a land, but because they struggled to trust Hashem. My fortune in existing during Jewish independence crowns me with the fascinating question of what are we free to do. I yearn to live up to the gifts I am honored to inherit and giggle with excitement for my upcoming adventure working in a village for disabled adults in the Negev. Serving my home is the only way I can imagine starting my life here, singing my gratitude and working for future links. My tombstone will echo the Israeli pride in giving for the nation and my placement in history will dance in the songs of praising the opportunity. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

It is a struggle.

Growing up in a generation hungry to listen to Holocaust survivors, to go to the Museum of Tolerance, to speak openly and to learn historically what occurred, I grew to relate to the Holocaust as a weakness. I viewed the tagline of "Never Again" as a comforting lie we tell ourselves - "of course it will happen again; it's happening right now in Darfur!" My desire to be a strong and proud Jew didn't allow me to connect entirely to the inaction of stories told to me. I was affected, but at a shallow level that washed away within the hour. Even this year in seminary, as Vicky teaches us the specifics of the ghettos and camps, the residue of her words leave nothing.

But standing in a gas chamber changes everything. Feeling suffocated by my tears as I walk out of a room that my people didn't walk out of, wearing the flag of Israel as a representation of our survival, singing Hebrew songs crying out to the god that abandoned us; the complex array of emotions are impossible to tally up. 

The anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising claims the attention of tv and radio stations today: Yom Hashoa, the Remembrance Day for the Holocaust. Standing at a street corner in Jerusalem, I witness a city stopping- no a country stopping- every person standing next to their car, every conversation paused. The one minute siren at 10am doesn't just exclaim a mindfulness of history, it unites us in a conquest over Hitler's slashed plans, a pledge of faithfulness to this system of being a Jew, and a reconfirmation of our established state that fulfills our nationhood. 

Walking through Polish neighborhoods, I consider what the elderly people were doing at the time and who originally lived in their homes.The total destruction of Treblinka leaves no evidence of the mechanized death, except for the memorials and train tracks that we walk shivering in the snow. The  nameless 800 children smashed into the Zbilatowska Gora mass grave, the millions of shoes at Madjanek, the Warsaw cemetery that displays the life accomplishments and identities that were lived; my eyesight blurs with tears and my state of balance wavers from the information swimming around me.  

The question of how the Holocaust happened doesn't faze me. The same way I shoo the pidgin that was chilling in my dorm room out from the place he doesn't belong, so did the Germans. And the Poles were plenty happy to serve the cleansing process. It's not even why god let it happen. I think our relationship with our creator allows for excess free choice. The question that keeps me up lies in the definition of our covenant with god and our role as his people. Is this just the expected pattern and we should be waiting for the next one? If god has clearly walked away from being an overprotective parent, what do my tefillot mean to him, or for that matter to me? Are we born into this system of Judaism that calls on us to perform rituals knowing that even if I die as an individual, the nation will continue? 

During Shabbat at Krakow, I meet Malka. An adorable college international relations student at the University of Krakow, Malka doesn't "look" Jewish with her blonde hair and therefore she practices her Judaism hushed. As we get to know each other more throughout the weekend, our conversations hit intense notions of the beauty found through struggling in life. Yisrael does mean "to struggle with god" anyway. Malka understands the excellence in trying to be as Jewish as possible. She personifies the only true answer to my questions: live anyways. Live for the Jews that weren't able to question, to dance, to create a Jewish family. Our promise with god didn't say it was going to easy. Our agreement with god directs our survival through scraping by in these hardships and finding meaning in the daily tasks he laid out for us.

I have not figured out the Holocaust. I have not related to every story, nor detached from my love of strong Jews. I have however discovered the connectivity to the emotions of being a Jew in a nation of Jews. I am part of Am Yisrael and for the first time truly understand the definition of being a nation. I am never going to feel fulfilled by an answer to the Holocaust, but I will always celebrate the way those Jews lived holding onto Halacha and unifying. I will honor them by living a Jewish life and by continuing the work that was stolen from them. I will always struggle, but with pride.