Today was Yom HaShoa. The first time that I experienced Yom HaShoa was 12 years ago when Josh and I were living here for the year. We had adopted an older couple in Kiryat Shemona who we visited often. On that day, I vividly remember the pale that set over their house. The news was on continuously and they were extremely somber. I had never met people who were so closely impacted and it left an impression on me.
Living in the States, a day like Yom HaShoa doesn’t really have an impact. Here, I find that so much of our Judaism is tied up in the air we breathe. You don’t even have to actively look for ways to celebrate or commemorate this or that – it’s just part of life. Working in a school, I find that these holidays have even more impact, as there is always a program and a collective nature to the event.
So, today the entire school met in the auditorium for an assembly. I really didn’t know what to expect. The pricipal had everyone stand at the beginning, and I couldn’t understand what we were doing. Then I remembered – in Israel there is a siren that sounds in the entire country at the same moment for Yom HaShoa and Yom HaZikaron. It is one of the most intense and amazing things here. There we were, in this auditorium, standing silently listening to a two minute siren that was blaring across the entire country at the same time. That type of moment is really overpowering.
The assembly was breathtaking. The 7th grade girls did the entire thing with very powerful music, a lot of pantomimed scenes and a few voice overs. Throughtout the performance, I kept thinking – this is it. THIS is why I live here. I’m watching a recreation of an event that happened partly because we didn’t have a state of our own to defend ourselves and flee to. I’m watching a recreation of an event that gave rise to the country in which I live. This is why I’m here. I remember going to Aushwitz years ago and breaking down in violent sobs. When? Not over the camp or the horrific images I saw there, but at the moment when I saw a huge group of Israeli teenagers draped in Israeli flags walking through the camp singing. They were telling the Nazis what they could do with their plan for the Jews – they were living, breathing examples of the potential for Jewish life and power. At the end of the ceremony today, the girls draped a huge Israeli flag over the traintracks that were on stage and then everyone stood to sing Hatikva. This is what it’s about. This is why we are here.
Finally, I came home to find Matan and Yehuda having a very serious conversation this afternoon. Yehuda said to me that he had learned at school today about the very bad people that tried to hurt the Jews. Yehuda talked about what he understood, and Matan corrected him many times. I barely spoke. My 4 and 5 year old were discussing Hitler, the Nazis, the Jews who weren’t able to escape and the destruction of Jewish life in Europe. Matan said, “Huda, this happened because there wasn’t an Israeli army.” Bless his heart. He’s being taught that he lives in a country that protects its people and a country that fights for Jewish life and Jewish freedom. Amazing.