A few days before Yom Hazikaron, I spoke to the mother of a fallen soldier who forever changed my perspective on life as an Israeli. She shared that this Memorial Day is mainly for world Jewry living outside Israel. She emphasized that Yom Hazikaron is every day in Israel. A mother does not forget her son, and Israelis do not forget their friends and fellow soldiers. They think about and celebrate their memory throughout the year. Instead, Yom Hazikaron reminds everyone around the world—every Jewish person—to honor and remember those who fight to protect the Jewish people and secure the Jewish homeland.
This was the second time that I commemorated Yom Hazikaron from within Israel and a unique opportunity to experience the strength and interconnectedness of Jews around the globe, especially amid the pandemic. I grew up in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in the third-largest Jewish community in the country. After completing my master’s in international politics, I wanted to have some practical experience in my field. When choosing where to go, Israel Government Fellows (IGF) seemed like a meaningful experience. Multiple members of my family did programs abroad in Israel, so having a chance to live here as well was appealing to me.
Through IGF, I enrolled in an internship with Israel’s Ministry of Social Services and have had the opportunity to exercise my education while giving back to the Jewish people. As a Fellow, I have witnessed the connections between Israel and Jews around the world, and been moved by the depth of gratitude they pay to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for the Jewish people.
I was therefore so honored to represent global Jewry as one of two fellows in Masa’s virtual Yom Hazikaron Ceremony on April 27. Against a backdrop of 62 international flags representing Masa Fellows like myself from around the world, I laid memorial flowers, lit candles and recited a poem to honor Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Everyone at the site and hundreds of thousands watching the international broadcast were connected by the memory and story of someone—a brother, an aunt, a son, or maybe a parent. I remembered the mother’s words from a few days before and felt them amplified by the virtually connected community of Jews from around the world dialing in from the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Morocco, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, the former Soviet Union and more. We all lifted each other up, holding both pride and sorrow at the same time.
I’ve also seen this spirit to honor and uplift one another through daily life in Israel as we settle into a new normal during the global coronavirus pandemic. I see neighbors here in Jerusalem bringing food to the elderly. I see volunteers and NGOs calling those who cannot receive visitors to make sure they are well. I see fundraisers and awareness campaigns to keep us connected and hopeful. These efforts show how much can been done as a community, as a country and even globally to beat this pandemic together. The response in Israel and the interconnectedness of the Jewish people is an example for the world.
Back home in Brazil, the federal leadership response to the pandemic has been lacking. I discuss the stark contrast with my family and friends, and feel very lucky to be living in Israel during this time. I am grateful to have the opportunity to give back through the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services, even as I adjust to “working from home” and living a more socially distant life in a country known for creating close community. It has been a difficult transition for us all; I have been Zooming with family and friends to maintain a sense of closeness. Just as the Yom Hazikaron experience showed, this experience has showed me how connected we can all feel, even from a long distance.
As I near the end of my Masa program, having spent almost 10 months living in Jerusalem, I’m seriously considering making aliyah. I came to this decision gradually—over countless conversations, intimate Shabbats, and now, through bonding with the people of this country as we care for each other through this pandemic. I can’t put a price on the knowledge and experience I’ve gained through personally working and interacting with Israel’s diverse citizens from different backgrounds, affiliations, practices and passions. Their stories have become a fabric that has embraced me and embraced Jews around the world. Israel truly feels like home.
My hope is that when travel restrictions are lifted, Jews from around the world will come to Israel, and experience this country and its people for themselves. The people and their stories and their dedication to one another are so inspiring. My life has been enriched to be here at this time in history, to give back to the Jewish people, to honor those who keep us safe, and to imagine a brighter, more connected global Jewish community.
Marcela Friedman is a Masa participant in Israel Government Fellows, a program of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.