Flagging Memories: From Respect to Revelry

When I was a little girl growing up in the United States, American flags would be displayed proudly on Flag Day and Independence Day. Older people even had them flying on their homes on Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day. And, of course, there were people who flew the American flag all the time — some taking it down at night, and all being reverently careful to keep the flag from touching the ground.

Times changed. Fewer homes flew flags. Fewer people knew it was Flag Day or Memorial Day. It was hard to completely forget Veterans’ Day, because invariably there would be some old fellow with watery eyes shining with an old doughboy toughness from beneath his military cap, his jacket covered with medals of heroic campaigns forgotten. Red poppies used to be given out by the veterans, and flags were posted at the graves of war dead. Veterans’ Day was in November, Memorial Day was in May. The seemingly unrelated Fourth of July was easy to remember, because it was a day of sales and fireworks and barbecues with the neighbors. There might still even be parades…

Here in Israel, things are different. As we travel between our home in Gush Etzion and Jerusalem, we see an increasing number of blue and white Israeli flags flying from car windows. Young men on Jerusalem streets sell flags to those who have not yet purchased theirs; and stores sell a variety of sizes and styles of Israeli flags, or offer free flags with customers’ purchases. The Holy City gears up for the country’s birthday with the enthusiasm of a family sharing a joyful event: besides flags, barbecue grills and various kinds of meat are being purchased. Just like in the US – but with a twist.

Immediately before the celebration, we will take a day to remember that freedom isn’t free. We will honor the lives that were sacrificed in the name of Jewish independence. Throughout Israel, we stand for the Yom HaZikaron siren. The country stands still to remember our fallen heroes — those in uniform, and those whose heroism was earned over pizza or ice cream, or just because they chose to ride the bus our enemies targeted. We will concentrate on these 23,544 losses as we travel through this very sad day. Many of us will visit cemeteries, to honor our own personal losses, or to honor our war dead, or those murdered in terror attacks. Because we are all family. Each loss is personal.

And tonight, we will build up for the joy that is Yom HaAtzmaut, the Day of Israel’s Independence.

Yom HaZikaron flows into Yom HaAtzmaut as a perfect metaphor for the life of a Jew. It is not unusual to go to a brit milah in the morning, followed by a vort for a couple newly engaged, followed by a shiva visit, and end the day at a wedding or bar mitzvah celebration. This is the roller coaster life of one who is privileged to be embroidered into the tapestry of others’ lives in a way I have never seen outside the Jewish people. And because these two days support each other on the Jewish calendar, I believe our Day of Remembrance and our Independence Day will never descend into being merely shopping days, forgotten by all but our patriotic elderly.

Ruti Eastman

Posted by Ruti Eastman

Ruti Eastman fell in love with Israel on her first visit, but had to wait 16 years to make aliyah in 2007. She writes about her adventures in Israel, as well as about the family history she wants to capture for her children. She has worked variously as an editor, teacher, artist, radio disc jockey, US army soldier; but her favorite job description is "raises crops of boys." Ruti writes at "Never Ruthless" and her book of collected essays is due out in 2017.

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