April 16, 2015
Today is known as Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Day, in Israel. An entire 24 hours each year is designated to the commemoration and remembrance of the 6 million Jews in Europe who were killed.
At 10 am, a siren sounds. People stop everything they are doing around the country for 2 minutes of silence.
I stood at the junction of East and West Jerusalem this morning. My camera poised, my framing already picked out, waiting.
An Arab bus breezed past, and then. A siren. Cars pulled over. People got out. Stood. Silent. A taxi drove past.
And then it was over. People returned to their cars, put it in gear, and drove off. Returning to the original programming.
Yet in that moment, the three seconds between the ending of the siren and the return to life, I felt the weight of a people. An object at rest stays at rest. An object at motion stays at motion. And that moment between rest and motion takes all the energy in the world to begin. The experience was moving in the sense that I was able to concretely see a collective, national consciousness being built. To know that all over the country, at the same time, strangers that you do not know also took 2 minutes to be quiet and to think of "over there" and "that time" in Europe. To reconcile he deaths of millions with your present daily existence in a country that was constructed on the identity for which they were killed.
It is powerful.
I sat with a friend of mine afterwards to talk about what we just watched. What we felt. What we thought. Our conversation turned to this last summer and the operation in Gaza. To other sirens we heard, to our experiences of sitting in shelters, to our experiences when we shrugged it off, to those without shelters. We spoke of Sheijaya, a neighborhood that has become a symbol of the destruction of Gaza this summer. My eyes watered, my throat grew tight.
The holocaust has evolved into being more than just an event--it is a symbol that can be politicized, banalized, contorted to political justifications, used to demonize your enemies, the punchline in a morbid joke, the justification for contemporary anxieties.
As much as I wanted to approach and experience this moment this morning with these critical thoughts in mind, it hit me in the heart. And to give a minute to think of the horrors of the world felt not only appropriate, but called for. To remember. To be called upon never to forget. And for me personally, to remember the determination to strive for justice and ensure that it is never again for any peoples.
The next two weeks are a microcosm of this conflict wrapped up in official commemorations and ceremonies celebrating or condoning Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Naqba. Stay tuned.
To see a video of the siren, see here.