It’s hard to write a column called The View from Israel without being able to show... the view from Israel. But I will do my best to describe what it is like to be here now, in the spring sunshine in arguably, the most “Israeli” time of the year.
In Israel, the landscape serves as an escort to the holidays throughout the year. And, while the changes are predictable, they are never the same. Rather, they are always varied even within their comforting regularity, similar to the holidays which ground us yet give us new opportunities for appreciation and joy.
Show me a picture of the Israeli countryside and I’ll tell you what season it is. Show me the flowers in bloom and I can tell you which holiday Israelis are getting ready to celebrate.
Bright pink almond trees herald the arrival of Tu B’shvat (the New Year for the trees when it is said the sap begins flowing after the winter). Red anemones pop up right before Purim. Deep violet lupins and yellow daisies then mix with crimson lilies, bright poppies, violet morning glories, and dozens of other vibrant wildflowers to carpet fields and grassy hills.
You know Passover has arrived when the pink hollyhocks stand tall and proud lining the sides of the highways on your family trips up north, and the presence of white Queen Anne’s Lace, so abundant now, announces that the “Yoms” are on their way.
The “Yoms” are: Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom Ha’atzamut, and Yom Yerushalayim — Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Jerusalem Day. Falling within a month of each other, these days are deeply ingrained in modern Israeli culture. They tell the story of our return to Israel, and while few Israelis consider them “holy” days, they are sacred nonetheless.
Yom HaShoah is a time for recalling and reflecting on Holocaust, what we learned and what we can never forget. The nation hears testimony from survivors, and stands in silence for the siren that wails in honour of those stolen from us. Restaurants and entertainment venues are closed, and TV and radio run “Holocaust programming” all day long as we recall our collective loss.
A week later, Yom Hazikaron is a memorial day for those fallen in wars to create and keep the state of Israel safe, as well as those taken by terror. Sombre music is played throughout the 24 hours, a siren sounds at night and again in the morning while the country stands at attention in honour of its fallen. It is a day of deep collective mourning as virtually no family remains untouched by wars or terror. This is less true for new immigrants, but Israel is small — everyone knows someone, and we share a collective pain, if to varying degrees.
In an intense and intentional juxtaposition, Independence Day follows hard on the heels of Memorial Day and the country celebrates the creation and existence of the state of Israel with abandon, and barbecue. And not just any barbecue. Nobody barbecues like Israelis. Families rope off areas of forest, beach, and field and move outside for the day. It seems there is an unspoken competition for who can bring the most to the outdoor celebration. Last year, I saw a refrigerator hooked up to a generator in the middle of a forest.
The other main Yom Ha’atzmaut pastime is hiking. Trails criss-cross the country and are marked for the public’s benefit, on rocks, trees, and electric poles. The country is small, yet the beauty and variety of the landscape means there is always something more to see — even for native Israelis who love to hike. Perhaps this hearkens back to the Bible when God tells Abraham that he is to inherit the land, so he must “walk its length and breadth”. Walking breeds familiarity with our surroundings and causes us to notice the things we miss in everyday life. It creates an awareness and, I would posit, a connection.
Yom Yerushalayim, celebrated a month later, sees parades of young and old marching and dancing across the united city into the heart of the Old City and down to the Western Wall, celebrating that it is, as the paratroopers said in 1967, “in our hands”.
Celebrating these days in our land with comforting regularity and renewed enthusiasm reminds us why despite the wars and terror, and the relatively young government still experiencing growing pains, the view from Israel is full of hope, promise, strength and endless beauty.
Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is a writer and activist