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Being Israeli Is a Full-time Job

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Israelis celebrating Independence Day look on towards the annual aerial show, Jerusalem.
Israelis celebrating Independence Day look on towards the annual aerial show, Jerusalem.Credit: Emil Salman

That’s it. It’s over. Friday was a regular day. In the morning we had time for shopping and for exercise, in the evening Friday-night dinner with the family. Compared to the past month, that’s nothing. A walk in the park. Every year on Independence Day, after the shock of the sharp transition from Memorial Day, comes this moment, when I’m tempted to put my hand on the back of people’s necks to check for an audio jack to plug into the Israeli Matrix.

These thoughts are quickly pushed aside by the deafening noise of fighter jets cutting across the sky and the cheering on all sides. Now is not the time for rebellious thoughts. We must rejoice. Independence. The state is 74 years old. We mustn’t forget that we have no other country. The lips move spontaneously to the words of the song: I. Have. No. Other. Country. Evenifmylandisburning.”

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Shortly after the sky calms down, the air fills with smoke again from the barbecues, and we’ll go to eat the regular Independence Day menu. The droves of people who only a few moments before were flocking to the shore to look at the sky and rejoice will stream back in hordes in order to be on time for their annual date with the kebab.

Being Israeli is a full-time job. I don’t think there’s another country in the world that holds its citizens under such an intense steamroller of holidays and customs and traditions, while maintaining complete control over their time, consciousness, emotions and digestive systems. Stand. Sit. Wave the flag. Be sad. Be happy. The previous week: Don’t eat bread for seven days. When that week ends, take all the bread that you didn’t eat for a week, mix it with honey and sugar and chocolate spread, and Tirbehu Watis’adu.

Five days later, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Siren: There you are in the bomb shelter at Golan School, the black poster board and paper-cut silhouettes. Every person has a name. The pictures of the black-and-white films. Concentration camp survivors near death, their eyes bulging, a look that chases us in our dreams, wheelbarrows with piles of bodies, 6 million Jews. Remember and don’t forget. Hitler Hitler Hitler Hitler Hitler Hitler. Nazis. Animals. “Sophie’s Choice.” What would you do if you were in the Holocaust. Would you survive? It’s not just Nazis, the whole world stood and did nothing. Where was God in the Holocaust. Vengeance for the blood of a small child. Six million. It’s over.

A week goes by. Memorial Day Eve. Siren. Now sad. Gil’s father. Adlai’s father. Poor Gil. Poor Adlai. A black-and-white picture of Moshe Dayan. Yitzhak Rabin in uniform. Nir Poraz. Pictures of Israeli prisoners of war in Egypt. Tanks. Military cemeteries. Graves. Graves. Dana. Erez. Yiftah. The picture of Bendi with a beard showering during the Yom Kippur War. It’s over. Quiet. Darkness. Sad. Sad songs. Sad movies.

Memorial Day. Another siren. Rerun. Sad. It’s over. Independence Day Eve. Happy! Meat. Wine. Potatoes. Flags. Hammers. We have no other country. But why aren’t there fireworks? The debate over the fireworks is also part of the Matrix. There’s no life in Israel outside the Matrix.

You can’t remain indifferent to the state. It’s not only in kindergarten and the school system, it’s everywhere. Children and adults. Public space and private. Everybody’s in the same content stew that doesn’t stop for a minute. Add to this TV and radio and, of course, social media – it’s a closed circuit.

What we have here isn’t a state. It’s a unique place. You can love it or you can hate it. It’s two sides of the same coin. But it’s not a state.

OK, enough of these thoughts. In a few days we’ll have to collect wood for the Lag Ba’omer bonfire. And a few days after that we’ll have to eat cheese, for Shavuot.

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