There was a palpable feeling of heaviness in the air. Folks were not so cheery. The usual morning greetings were somewhat subdued, and it was as though we were all holding our collective breath.
The liberation of the death camps was in 1945. Still, remaining in our collective consciousness is the atrocity of the Shoah, the Holocaust. Some have said that for a brief moment in history, world opinion was for us, so we were able to secure our State. Was it worth it? Six million Jews. Ten million souls. Soldiers fighting on foreign soil.
In Israel, many have relatives who perished in the Shoah. It is, "up close and personal," so to speak. In my own family, my husband lost people that he never knew, those who were trapped in Europe, unable to escape the tidal wave that engulfed the region. One of my daughters was named for two people who perished. The victims are with us.
They are our families and it is our horrific legacy. In a certain sense it defines us, and it is the reason we remain vigilant. We have no choice.
It is 10 A.M. The siren sounds, and cars pull over to the side and stop. Drivers exit, along with passengers. The only sound is the birds chirping. Those with kippahs and those who are secular, those who are young and those who are old. Parents with children and big, burly truck drivers. We all stop. We all exit our vehicles and we all stand.
All of us are filled with different thoughts, but last year I asked my students, “What were you thinking? What did you feel?” The answers varied, but many spoke of the same thing: We are still not secure. Every day a soldier or civilian is stabbed in the street.
We had friends visiting, and, unfortunately, we had to tell them they needed to stay away from certain areas. It is simply not safe. It is too dangerous. In our own country, in our own land, we need to be careful. We need to watch and be alert.
In the schools, we have ceremonies. There are songs and poems read. Some wear yellow stars. We read accounts of those who were victims and we ask ourselves the question, what have we learned? How can we insure this never happens again? What does this mean for us, and our children?
Soon, there will be no more survivors left alive, and no more first-hand accounts. It is imperative, therefore, that the testimonies are chronicled, so that Holocaust deniers might be silenced by truth.
We have read books about how this could have occured and still, we don't really understand. We read books such as Night, by Eli Wiesel and The Wave by Todd Strasser, which chronicles first-hand accounts, or experiments in which others can be made to feel inferior. We read The Diary of Anne Frank. We discuss the dynamics but we weren't there. We truly don't understand the abject terror that those in Europe faced.
We read a book by Victor Frankle, Man’s Search for Meaning, which speaks of living for something other than yourself, and that this is the key to survival. The goal, therefore, is not so much "happiness" but meaning, which brings satisfaction and contentment. We read testimonies by our former chief Rabbi Lau. We read and discussed and tried to understand.
Last year as I was at the music school where I work we all assembled in a large auditorium and stood at five minutes to ten. Not a sound was heard while the siren was wailing. Not a giggle. Not a cough. There was complete silence. A violinist played a tune. Poems were read. Pictures were shown. There were no applause. Some read original work, and composed original music. The usually rambunctious and noisy students were subdued and respectful.
We had discussions; we mourned, for the past and for a world that still doesn't leave us alone.
But, at least, we are home. Our State is ours. Never again will we be rounded up like sheep to the slaughter. Never again will we have to hide in attics or basements, trembling at the sound of soldiers. We don't have to worry about being "turned in" by someone we thought was a friend. We are home.
Our home is far from perfect. It has been said that we live in a nice house in a bad neighborhood. But, we are home.
I looked at the faces of my students and I prayed. I prayed for a world in which they can be proud and unafraid Jews. I prayed for a world in which my children and my students can live in peace. I prayed for a solution to the protracted and relentless conflict with the Palestinians.
Former students who are now in the army came, in uniform, to stand with us. They walked in, strong and beautiful, and we all hugged and greeted each other filled with emotion. These former students have become beautiful men and women. They have grown up with us, these kids. They are our sons and our daughters. We commemorated the Shoah together standing shoulder to shoulder. They remained with us during the ceremony. Then, they hugged us tightly, picked up their weapons, and left.