As new olim we are still often wondering “What should we do when the siren sounds?” Not the kind from an emergency vehicle, but a long siren that can be heard throughout the whole neighborhood. In Israel the siren means one of two things – it’s either a warning to run for shelter from an incoming missile (which we were told has not yet happened, thank G-d, here in Rehovot) or notice of a minute of silence. The first time we heard a siren, several months ago, we were unsure what to do but since no one outside was running to a shelter, we figured it was okay to go about our business. Apparently we weren’t the only Anglos in the dark since queries on the local Yahoo email list had others questioning the purpose of the siren as well. Ultimately it was revealed to be a test and that information could usually be found in advance about siren testing on YNet News, as well as the radio for those who are more fluent in the language. The other morning I heard a long siren and again looked out my window to see what I should do. Since no one was fleeing, I didn’t either, and went to check the YNet site for enlightenment. Realizing that it was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, I understood that the siren had been an indication for everyone to stop what they were doing and stand still till it stops.
Not every moment of silence comes with a siren. Several months ago I was walking in the neighborhood listening to the news in Hebrew on my cell phone’s FM radio and heard something about remembering Gilad Shalit, but I didn’t quite understand the whole story. I continued walking for another couple of minutes until I came to a spot where everyone was just standing around near a truck which was unloading. It was really curious since nothing seemed to be going on and I couldn’t imagine that so many people had actually stopped to watch someone unload a truck. So I stopped, stood there, and waited, expecting that I’d eventually find out what was happening. Fortunately, enlightenment wasn’t too long in coming as the woman next to me was soon explaining to an inquiring newcomer – five minutes of silence for Gilad Shalit. Having heard the news before, it all fell into place, and I felt privileged to be able to participate for the remaining time.
I was prepared for the siren at eight o’clock last night, this one in commemoration of Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. Many commemoration activities were taking place at that time and they began with a minute of silence. Although I was not able to attend, Andy and Tova did. Rav Simcha Hakohen Kook, Rehovot’s Chief, Rabbi spoke and although they did not understand everything that was said in Hebrew, they were there and counted. Whereas Memorial Day in the States has become another reason for stores to hold sales, in Israel it’s taken quite seriously. In fact, as the blog A Soldier’s Mother explains:
It is sadly a bit unique in the world in that it is truly a day of mourning. There are no barbecues, no sales, no discounts, no playing on the beach. It is somber, it is heartbreaking, it is agonizing. Cafes, restaurants, movie theaters, etc. are all closed – by law and by desire, there are no places of entertainment open.
In this fledgling state that’s still fighting for its survival, too many people have friends and loved ones who have fallen. Even though we’ve only been here for 8 months so far, there is a great feeling of unity when the siren sounds as we have intertwined our destiny with all those who are living here. The siren sounded promptly at 11 AM this morning. We stood still for the duration.
Tomorrow we will celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. One would think these two couldn’t be farther apart, but in fact we only have one because of the other.