By Marisa Obuchowski
Two years ago I embarked on a journey, a masa, to Israel for five months to live, explore and intern in Tel Aviv. I loved the time that I spent abroad learning the culture, engaging with the land and the people and connecting more deeply with my heritage. While in Israel, I adapted to my surroundings by learning the bus routes, finding hidden gems at the market and becoming slightly more aggressive (let’s call it passionate). During the process, I celebrated new traditions and holidays, but none more awe-inspiring than the start of Yom Ha’atzmaut on the heels of Yom Ha’zikaron. This moment was particularly poignant, because in Israel, Independence Day is immediately preceded by Memorial Day.
Growing up in the U.S., I equated Memorial Day with the kickoff of summer—a three-day weekend when outdoor pools opened, barbecues ignited and families took trips to the beach. In Israel however, Yom Ha’zikaron was a somber day of reflection, remembrance, and reverence. The cadence of the day was slower; bustling cities became lethargic and cemeteries were flooded with families, friends and fellow soldiers remembering their loved ones. It’s almost as if a dark cloud settled over the entire state. But there was a silver lining.
As daylight dissipated, a frenetic energy picked up as the pulse of the city returned stronger than ever. In Tel Aviv, my friends and I followed the masses to Kikar Rabin (Rabin Square), unsure of what was in store. On stage, there was a large projection screen streaming the closing service of Yom Ha’zikaron in Jerusalem, though the atmosphere reminded me of the New Year’s Eve countdown in Times Square. People of all ages waited in anticipation for the ceremony to finish, when finally, in a split-second, daybreak occurred giving way to Yom Ha’atzmaut. Fireworks went off, music started to play and everyone broke out in song and dance. It was a bizarre yet incredible transition from one day to the next; a perfect moment of yin and yang, if you will, reminding us that without sorrow there is no joy, and vice versa.
Walking home we were enveloped by the festive chaos, sprayed with shaving cream from head-to-toe, donning Israeli flags and glow sticks…and that was just the beginning. The celebrations continued throughout the night, in the streets, bars and restaurants all over town. To give some perspective, my friends and I were out until nearly 7:30 in the morning, at which point we bought sushi, ate on our rooftop deck and finally went to sleep.
It was one of the wildest, most exhilarating, nights I can ever remember. In a way Yom Ha’atzmaut epitomized the Israeli culture and people I had grown to adore— kind of crazy, loud, unforgiving, amazing and lovable in spite of the hardship and adversity they have endured.
Marisa interned with Masa Israel Journey from March-August 2012. She currently resides in Federal Hill.
Yom Ha’atzmaut is on Tuesday, May 6. To learn more about Israel experience programs, visit associated.org/experienceisrael. Visit baltimoreisraelcoalition.org to view a list of Yom Ha’atzmaut events taking place in the community.