Monday was Yom Hazikaron, Remembrance Day, the day Israelis memorialize the thousands of mostly young people who gave their lives to defend one of the greatest achievements of modern times, the reconstitution of the Jewish nation as a flourishing and vibrant democracy in its historical homeland. Virtually everyone in Israel knows someone who has been killed in battle or, at a minimum, knows someone who was close to someone who was killed.
In addition to the large official remembrance ceremonies, there are any number of ceremonies in schools and in neighborhoods, conducted by young people. My wife and I attended a moving memorial in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot put on by the youth organization. The young people often know those from their neighborhoods who have died in battle, and they are often just months away from entering the military.
There is also the moment at 11:00 a.m. on Remembrance Day when the sirens sound, virtually all of Israel comes to a halt, people stop driving, shopping, talking, walking, and all stand silently for a minute or two. "Touching and poignant" does not do the the day justice.
Remembrance Day transitions directly into Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. My wife and I were lucky enough to attend a full dress rehearsal a week ago Thursday night for the official ceremonies that occurred last Monday night. It was full of the pomp, ritual, music, dance, flags, and fireworks one would expect. Tuesday was dedicated to an ubiquitous Israeli pasttime, the barbeque. In parks, patios, balconies, beaches, along trails and highways, just about everywhere, Israelis cook up tons of kebabs, vegetables, potatoes, and just about anything else that can possibly go on a grill.
Israelis well recognize and constantly discuss their many domestic and foreign problems. No one who lives here has rose-colored glasses. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find a more self-critical population than Israelis. But on Remembrance Day and Independence Day one can sense a well-deserved sense of appreciaton for and pride in what has been achieved in just 63 years in a hostile and resource-deprived sliver of a piece of land: a vibrant democracy, a flourishing economy, an independent and free home for the Jewish people.
Israelis recently came in seventh place in a survey of how various nationalities rate their happiness. Not too bad. Indeed, something to celebrate.