On the Honey and the Beesting

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Yom HaShoah

Today is Yom HaShoah VeHagvurah (Holocaust and Heroism Day), at least in Israel, if not elsewhere in the world. Actually, it technically began late yesterday afternoon. It is the law that all places of entertainment, that is, restaurants, cafes, bars, clubs, and most stores (i'm not sure about the last one) close on Erev Yom HaShoah (the night before) up until the following night. I discovered this when I went for waffles and we got there just as the place closed. Le sigh. The radio has been playing slow, soft, and sad folk-songs all day long.

Even though my usual practice for a 10:15 class is to wake up at 9 and rush in just in time for class, I got up half an hour earlier (also so that I could eat a full breakfast as opposed to the usual tea and muffin...thank god for post-holiday grocery shopping) to be on campus in time for a special event. I got up to the main building two minutes before-hand, and met up with my friend Shana, and we waited outside in the crowd.

At 10 am, the air-raid siren went off all over the State of Israel for two minutes, and time literally froze. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stood absolutely still. It was like being in a photograph. You know the scene from the Matrix when Neo and Morpheus are in the training program and Neo gets distracted by the woman in the red dress and she turns into an agent and Morpheus stops the program and everyone freezes? Minus Keanu Reeves, it was exactly like that. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen.

I'm told that during the siren, all traffic stops, too, and people pull their cars over and stand outside them, even on the highway (which scares the hell out of me to even consider the logistics of that feat of driving. Note to self; if I immigrate, don't be caught out driving on days when they sound the siren).

But thirty seconds into the siren, a girl walked through the crowd, who did not part for her, and all you could hear was the siren and her heels clicking on the pavement. Noone looked up at her, and so even though she had on this defiant expression, I was the only one who noticed it, because everyone had their head bowed, and I kept my head up to watch. She was the only person moving; everyone else in the courtyard, Ashkenazi, Ethiopian, Sepharadi, Arab, and overseas student, was like a statue.

Now, I had been 'warned' last night by one of my roommates that Arab students are notorious for purposefully ignoring the siren, by walking, shouting, singing, playing music, or talking on their cellphones as if nothing is happening. Which, if you consider it, is violently rude. Like, put your political bullshit aside for two minutes out of the year. (Actually, six minutes. They will sound the siren twice more next week, on Remembrance Day. But seriously, six minutes. Take a valium if you have ADD and problems keeping still for that long. Otherwise, grow the hell up). first of all, I would like to point out that in no way was the walking girl symbolic of all Arabs who make up 20% of the population at Haifa University. The majority of them have a good head on their shoulders, and know what it means to respect another people's pain and memories. This is why I was not at all wary, like my roommate, who fretted about finding a quiet place where she could stand and not be bothered by the 'obnoxious arabs'. (Fun fact: Hebrew does not have a good word for 'obnoxious'. The closest I can find is docheh, which literally means 'repulsive', as in something you push away from you). .

The girl who refused to stop walking this morning (who was in fact Arab, by the way.) was exercising her right to refuse to observe a silence which is not mandatory by law, but rather by a code of etiquette which she clearly does not apply to herself. She was able to have her little temper tantrum against the 'fascist state' without disrupting anyone else's private moment. She did not push or shove anyone who stood quietly. She did not physically harm those standing, who clearly had a different worldview than her own. She was obnoxious, yes, but she did not put anyone who disagreed with her in danger.

While the total standstill that comes with the siren is one of the most powerful events that I have experienced, I believe that it is the walking Arab girl who symbolizes the moral of the outcomes of the Holocaust. In the State of Israel, where democracy and Judaism and Jewish History are so incredibly intertwined and so impossibly inseparable, and which so many claim is the direct outcome of the Holocaust, Jewish and Arab citizens alike have the unquestionable right, within a democratic framework, to choose to remember or to defiantly forget.


Anonymous Jon Arnold said...

Hi Jess. Your Dad and I are in the same industry. Our paths cross more often now that he's started blogging, and we link to each other. I saw him at an industry event the other day, and he was telling me about your post. He was very proud of your insight, and ability to note the subtlety of having the right to be rude. Nicely done! Democracy, like being Jewish is hard work. If it was so easy, everyone would do it, right? And nowhere in world is democracy more complex than Israel. Sounds like you're having a wonderful time in Israel - you're very lucky. Oh - born in the US? I was too, but live here in TO - Eglinton and Yonge - a bit down the road from your Dad. I am dual, though, and carry both passports. It's easier that way.

7:46 PM  

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