Posted by: RaeAn | 2 May 2011

Yom HaShoah

Today, we remember those whole lives were affected by the Shoah, or the Holocaust — today is Yom HaShoah here in Israel and across the world.

Yesterday, since my friend Leonard is in town, he came to two classes at HUC with me since he’s considering applying some day; then while I finished classes, he explored Jerusalem. He came back to see me while I was working at the library and then we decided to roam around looking for some dinner… unfortunately, we didn’t realize (mostly, I didn’t realize — it’s his first time in Israel, but I should’ve known this) that all the restaurants close the night before and the day of Yom HaShoah. That was a colossal failure…

“Damn you, Hitler. I blame you for this.”
                   — as so eloquently phrased by a frustrated me after the 5th block of closed-up restaurants.

All joking aside, Yom HaShoah is pretty serious business here. We didn’t have class today; instead, we had services, a tekes (ceremony), and two study sessions at school. The roommate and I had to go to the Arnona office (Arnona = renter’s tax, which means we were dealing with Israeli bureaucracy, grawr!) first thing, so instead of services and the first half of the tekes, we went to Yaffo Street to try to get our student discount on the Arnona. (That thing’s expensive without the discount!) We got the notary from the court house, then went to the Arnona offices themselves at 9:00 am to do our thing… but there was another tekes going on and the office was closed until the end of the ceremony. So we waited outside the Arnona offices with a bunch of other people for 45 minutes until they re-opened and a few dozen impatient Israeli bodies shoved around in “line” (very, very heavy quotes on that one) to get in and get numbers and get seated. After we got a number, we sat down… then a few minutes later, the siren goes off.

Every year, at 10:00 am, a siren sounds for a full 2 minutes throughout the entire country, during which everyone stands up and is quiet for the whole time. (Yes, Israelis are quiet for a full 2 minutes.. hard to imagine, but true!) A little video of a highway during the Yom HaShoah siren if you care to watch:

(The siren starts about 1 minute in, so feel free to fast forward to 0:58 or so to catch it.)

People actually stop their cars and get out to stand up for the siren. It’s really a incredibly impressive occurrence: an entire country takes two minutes to reflect on those lost in the Holocaust. 

Well, almost an entire country: when I was living in Tel Aviv, I was at a busy intersection near the university when the siren went off, and while most people stopped and were quiet, some Arab boys didn’t stop what they were doing at all — they kept talking on their cell phones and to each other, crossing the streets, etc. Much of the Arab population here feels no connection to Yom HaShoah (understandably so, I think), and some don’t feel the need to participate in the communal moment of silence. 

While I was in the Arnona office this morning, since Yom HaShoah is a pretty big-deal holiday here to the Jews, the majority of the people in line were Arab. I expected as much; there were a few of us whitey Jews in there, but much of the crowd had Muslim head-coverings. So when the siren went off at 10:00 am, I stood up at my chair in the waiting area, as did all the staff of the building and the other Jews in the crowd. The Arabs didn’t stand — which I wholly expected.

What surprised me, after seeing how little the Tel Aviv guys respected the moment of silence, was how quiet everyone was — including the Arabs. One Arab woman’s cell phone rang during the siren, and she had such a look of horror on her face, shock that her phone would be the one to ruin the silence of the moment, and she instantly turned it off with a look of annoyance at whoever had the poor judgment to call her right then. I suppose the cynic could say that she was so frustrated because she’s in a room fully staffed by Jews and an Arab woman would have more trouble dealing with the Jewish municipal staff so she didn’t want to cause any trouble, but from watching her as she put her cell phone back away in her purse, I get the feeling that she wanted to respect the moment. The Holocaust didn’t cause the trauma to the Arab community that it did to the Jewish one so I wholly understand that they don’t feel the need to commemorate the day like we do, but I think she, and the others in the room who chose not to stand during the siren, recognized that the moment has sanctity and meaning to others in the room, and to cause an interruption would be disrespectful. 

It gave me some hope for some cross-cultural understanding here. There’s a lot of work to be done, for sure, but there are glimmers of hope that mutual respect can be found among the peoples here. No matter how small they are — they’re there, and I think we need to appreciate that.

I hope everyone had a meaningful Yom HaShoah. Remember the 6 million Jews and millions of others whose lives were ended too soon, and the many millions more whose lives have been lived in the shadow of this great tragedy.

Never again. 

(Update on Passover vacation to come, I hope, but it’s finals time now: up to the final P of the end-of-year sequence of Purim, Pesach, Packing, so I’m a little frazzled at the moment! I got tons of great pictures, and the week was fantastic: Amsterdam with Beth, then Copenhagen and Goteborg with the family. A great vacation overall!)


~ Rae


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