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While I’m getting ready for university exams, my Israeli cousins are serving in the IDF

Student blogger Asha Sumroy on the contrast between her life, and that of her Israeli friends, especially on Yom Hazikaron

    For most students, this week marks the return to university as the Easter holiday we convinced ourselves was infinitely long comes to an end, and exam season looms suddenly closer than we’d like to think about.

    A time, perhaps, when the nights-out are put on hold (or at least their frequency reduced) and the threat of not getting a seat in the library is enough to scare all of us into the 9am wake-ups we’ve been sleeping through for the rest of the year.  

    I’m dragging out my return to Durham as long as I can. Partly because I’m enjoying living in a room where I can’t touch my hands on both walls at once, but also because this Wednesday specifically has been a day that my Jewish friends and I have been planning for months. 

    This time last year we were in Israel, where this week marks a time of commemoration and celebration. On Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s memorial day, commemorating fallen Israeli soldiers and victims of terror) we attended one of the hundreds of memorial services held across the country to join those remembering those lost from their community.

    We stood silent alongside the morning errand-runners and shop owners, car drivers and passengers, residents on balconies and our madrichim (leaders) in the streets of Jerusalem as the two minute-long siren sounded, before travelling to a memorial for fallen foreign soldiers who came to fight in Israel’s wars.

    Here, our madrichim - our friends - shared their stories of serving in the IDF and of loss and of the reality of living in this complex reality. 

    Even as the day drew to a close and the country’s radio stations started to transition from the quiet melodies, songs of grief and loss towards the celebratory music played for Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence day, which follows directly from Yom Hazikaron), we were left with the overwhelming knowledge that this was a reality that we could invest in listening to, but that we could never truly understand. 

    As Reform Zionists we believe in the state of Israel, many of us want to make aliyah in the future and we invest our time in educating diaspora Jewish youth, led by the belief that Zionism demands being critical of Israel whilst striving to make it a state that truly reflects Jewish values. Yet, whilst I’m getting ready for University exams, my Israeli cousins are serving in the IDF. Its a different world that I often imagine, but can only imagine. 

    So we’re left, a year on, with an even greater sense of conflict over this day. How do we mark this time of remembrance and celebration? When we are privileged to not be commemorating the loss of our own friends or family, when we engage critically with the multiple narratives surrounding this day, when we can take for granted the fact that our peers in Israel are conscripted to serve and protect a country we hope to live in, when we aren’t even in Israel to join in the ceremonies of those whose reality this is - what do we do? 

    We’ll do our best. There’s been suggestions of peer-leading some discussions about narratives and then going out that night, some might even join the synagogue communities we haven't been to in years to join commemorative services and celebrations. I’m still not sure what feels right to me. But, tomorrow morning I’ll be up at 9am like thousands of students across the UK - not to race for a seat in a library, but to observe two minutes-silence in sync with the sirens sounding across the seas. 

    Asha Sumroy is one of the JC's regular student bloggers for 2017-18. She is studying at Durham University.

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