This week's blog post is written by Rachel, a Yahel fellow living and volunteering in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood in Rishon LeZion.
Since being in Israel, there have been a number of holidays we’ve been able to celebrate in Ramat Eliyahu. On Yom Kippur we walked along the highways and broke fast with a meal we all cooked together. During Purim, we dressed up in tons of different costumes and painted kids’ faces in Gan Menashe, the local park. We celebrated Tu BiShvat as a group by potting small plants and herbs to keep in our apartments. We were able to experience what holidays were like in Israel, and feel like a part of the community.
However, since being in quarantine, there have been a number of holidays that we weren't able to participate in traditionally. On Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) we listened to speakers from Yad Vashem and the Center for Holocaust Studies discuss anti-semitism during the 1920’s, and how that compares to today’s rise of anti-semitism. On Yom HaZikaron (a day to remember fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism) we were able to hear from our Israeli staff, and learn how emotional this day is for them. We were able to join different online discussions with people who have lost family members due to terrorism in Israel, not only Jewish Israeli soldiers who died in combat, but also Arab Israelis who were victims of terrorist attacks. The biggest difference was how we were (or in this case weren’t) able to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day). None of us had experienced this day first hand, and I think all of us were excited to see how Independence Day here in Israel differs from how we celebrate Independence in our countries of origin. While there were still a few cookouts and small parties in the community, it was much more subdued than what we were told Independence Day was like.
As disappointing as it may have been to not have been able to have the "traditional Israeli experience” for these holidays, it also allowed us to connect online with a wider range of speakers and conferences. We were able to have a much more varied and diverse experience, even though we were stuck at home watching on a computer monitor. There were no parades, and no big group celebrations, but there was a sense of togetherness all the same. We might not have been able to even be in the same apartments as each other, but we all knew everyone was going through the same feelings. We might not have had a traditional celebration of these holidays, but at least we know that no one else will have the same experience as us.
Rereading this post to myself, I feel absurd complaining about my experience in quarantine. How can I complain about being stuck inside and not having the "traditional Israeli experience” when there’s families who can’t visit their loved ones’ graves on Yom HaShoah or Yom HaZikaron? As inconvenient it might have been for me to have to click over from one online speaker to the other, it pales in comparison to what Israelis must have been experiencing. Being stuck inside with no way to physically reach their family outside of their immediate apartment, without the ability to have their support system around them. The sense of community and togetherness I feel with other people on the Fourth of July in America, even when I wasn’t celebrating at work, makes me feel for Israel. America’s independence day happened over 200 years ago, and yet we still celebrate it with endless fireworks and cookouts and big family gatherings. Israeli became independent only 72 years ago, and yet they were restricted to celebrating with their immediate family or being at risk of getting fined. I’m sure there were many people who disregarded these rules, and celebrated in big groups anyway, but the need to be not as extravagant must have subdued the celebrations quite a bit.
I am over 5,800 miles away from my grandma, who lives in a nursing home and is at risk for contracting corona. I don’t visit her as often as I should, and yet it is still incredibly difficult to FaceTime her and speak about what she’s going through. I can’t imagine what it’s like for families that normally see their grandparents every week, or even every month, and not be able to see them for fear of giving them COVID-19. I’m definitely not trying to minimize anyone’s experience, especially of any volunteers here with me. It’s been beyond difficult to be a 12 hour plane ride away from my family, but I also feel hypocritical focusing on how difficult it is not being able to have the experience other fellows have had in the past. We might not have had a traditional celebration of these holidays, but at least we know that no one else will have the same experience as us.