I remember the day exactly.
I was stretched out on the stairs to the second floor of my cousins’ flat in Kfar Saba, a suburb northeast of Tel Aviv, chatting on the phone. All of a sudden, I heard this loud noise outside, and my older cousin, who was literally trying to sidle past me on the way up, froze in his tracks.
Just froze there with his hands at his sides.
I put the phone down, but wasn’t sure what to do. Was he sick? Was it a terrorist alarm? As thoughts raced through my mind (for a full minute, to be exact), he just as quickly relaxed and clomped, clomped, clomped his way up the carpeted stairs.
My cousin Dena, who’s my mother’s age, wandered out of the kitchen and saw the look on my face. “That was the siren,” she said matter of factly.
“It’s Memorial Day. Yom Hazikaron.”
Yom Ha What? This was before I learned my modicum of Hebrew.
It took me a bit, but I got it. And I was never taken aback again in my half-dozen or so other times I was visiting when that siren sounded. Had I been there a week earlier, I would have heard a siren for Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
It’s nothing like anyone in the United States has ever heard or seen. The entire country comes to a complete standstill in honor of Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Cars pull to the side of the road, postal workers go limp with their mailbags, bankers leave transactions aside, baristas put their espresso cups down.
It’s visual recognition and pain for all that has been lost in such a tiny, embattled country. Millions of people thinking one thought for two full minutes. A massive moment of silence.
The next day, the siren sounds again, and the nation lets loose in a celebration that makes the Fourth of July look like a backyard barbecue, which, I guess, it really is. But in Israel, it’s like everyone has a birthday on the same day, and this year, they’ll all be 72 years old!
But there won’t be large-scale visits to cemeteries to honor the fallen or folks en masse in stone-cold stances along the side of the road. There won’t be a big bash the next day. There will be millions of people in millions of homes upright alone as a sign of respect.
Some folks are starting to get out as the coronavirus curve flattens, but it’s not the sizable showing of normal times.
And the revelry will come, but in a very different form than usual.
It’s like everything these days. We’ve all been brought to a standstill. We’ve all had time to think. We’re staying in place and watching others around us fall, literally and figuratively.
Tomorrow, I’ll take a moment to salute them as well.
Carin M. Smilk is the managing editor of JNS.
This Reporter’s Notebook will appear starting on March 16 until the end of the month (or when schools reopen).