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New Symbols for an Old Season By: Paula R. Stern
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, May 06, 2005

Even before the Passover holiday ends, people in Israel rush to bring out the flags, the symbol of the days ahead. The flags bring color and comfort in these unsettled times, a reminder that there are powers greater than those we elect, to guard our people. It is an emotional rollercoaster that begins in despair and sorrow and usually ends in the joy of the rebirth of our nation.

The land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.  (Israel Declaration of Independence, May 1948)

This week, we will commemorate Yom HaShoah, during which we remember the victims of the Holocaust. It is a tragedy that binds us to who we are, who we were, and reminds us of what our enemies can do to us, if we let them.


On the morning of Yom HaShoah in Israel, all over the land, a siren is sounded. For two minutes it will wail and all of Israel will stop. Cars, buses, people in the middle of their day, shopping, walking, eating, everything stops. A world suddenly frozen in grief, while a nation stops to remember and to mourn.


Then, when the siren stops, we get back into our cars, go back to our coffee, our shopping, our newspapers. We do not forget, but we live on. Stronger for having remembered, better for having survived.


The Nazi holocaust, which engulfed millions of Jews in Europe, proved anew the urgency of the re-establishment of the Jewish state, which would solve the problem of Jewish homelessness by opening the gates to all Jews and lifting the Jewish people to equality in the family of nations. The survivors of the European catastrophe, as well as Jews from other lands, proclaiming their right to a life of dignity, freedom and labor, and undeterred by hazards, hardships and obstacles, have tried unceasingly to enter Palestine. (Israel Declaration of Independence, May 1948)


Yom HaShoah is followed by Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. We remember those who fought so that this nation could live. If not for the sacrifices of the brave soldiers of Israel, our nation would not have survived the endless wars and terrorist attacks that have plagued us for all of our existence.


“Beloved and pleasant in their life, And in their death they were not parted; They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.”  (Book of Samuel II)


Yom HaShoah is a day of mourning as a people, for a crime committed against an entire religion. Yom HaZikaron is something even more personal. We mourn as a nation, pull into ourselves for a day in which we remember the strongest, the bravest, the finest who fell. It is a day that breaks your heart over and over again. They died too young, too soon. Each year, as the names scroll over a 24 hour period, they move just that much faster because this year there are more names to display, more soldiers to mourn, more sons and daughters, fathers and husbands to remember.


And before the mourning ends, before the grief lessens, dusk falls over the land and almost without warning, we are reminded that they died to ensure our freedom. The sun sets, and the eve of our independence day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, begins.


In the midst of wanton aggression, we yet call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to return to the ways of peace and play their part in the development of the State, with full and equal citizenship and due representation in its bodies and institutions - provisional or permanent. We offer peace and unity to all the neighboring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all.  (Israel Declaration of Independence, May 1948)


It is for this day that we have been hanging flags around the country. From the rooftops and in the streets, from the windows and attached to so many cars. Every year, the land is covered with blue and white. But this year, the symbol has changed for many because the country has changed. We are divided, as we have not been for many years.


What four years of Palestinian terrorism succeeded in achieving, months of Sharon’s expulsion plan has destroyed. United we began this year, and divided we will finish it. The symbols have changed, as have the colors. My car flies two flags, as it has for almost all of the years I have lived here. It is the flag of Israel, proudly displaying the Star of David at its center on both sides of the car. One flag never seemed enough to contain my joy of living here and four seemed slightly ostentatious, so I settled for two.


But this year, an orange strip will fly on each flag, attached to the base, as the settlers of Gaza, Judah and Shomron are attached to Israel. A symbol that should unite us in pride, will instead symbolize the great divide.


I am a settler, as are my children. Had I chosen some place other than Maaleh Adumim to live, I would still be a settler. It is what I have dreamed of doing since the age of 13, settling in the land of Israel. It is what those who died in the Holocaust wished to do, and those who died in Israel’s wars fought to defend. The right to settle the land of Israel is an inalienable right of the Jewish people and when we deny that right, we deny our future.


Our call goes out to the Jewish people all over the world to rally to our side in the task of immigration and development and to stand by us in the great struggle for the fulfillment of the dream of generations - the redemption of Israel. (Israel Declaration of Independence, May 1948)


This year, the struggle for the fulfillment of the dream of generations, the redemption of Israel, seems very far away. We are not on the brink of peace and security. There will be no peace agreement when Sharon breaks his own declarations not to withdraw under fire, when he betrays those who voted for him and divides the nation in a way no one has ever succeeded in doing before. Worst of all, the ones who order Jews to be torn from their homes, destroy synagogues, and desecrate the resting places in Jewish cemeteries will be those who live in this country by virtue of the sacrifices of those we mourn on Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron.


Each year, our sadness has given way to joy and celebrations. This year, I wonder how we can celebrate when the expulsion of Jews from their homes comes closer and closer, and Sharon continues to ignore the right of the people to decide.

Paula R. Stern is a freelance journalist with degrees in Political Science and Economics from Columbia University. Her articles have appeared in newspapers throughout the US and Israel as well as on numerous websites. She is the Director of WritePoint Ltd, a technical writing company in Israel and lives in Maaleh Adumim. Her personal website is www.writepoint.com.

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