Ronnie Shashoua, a participant on the BINA GAP Mechina year, about What Does It Mean To Love Israel.
I always forget how small Israel is. 9 million people, but everyone is really no more than one degree of separation from anyone else. My family friend knows my madrich. My Tel Avivi cousin went to the same Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day) party as my mechina friend from up north. My best friend from Israeli summer camp was classmates with one of the mechinistim. In this kind of atmosphere, it’s no wonder a culture of camaraderie has developed. Every Israeli you meet (unless they’re trying to cut you in line) is going to treat you like a friend, or maybe a distant relative they’ve only ever heard about. With this closeness, as well as the fact that over 50% of the country gets drafted into the military, Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) becomes an incredibly meaningful day to both mourn and celebrate fallen soldiers. Israel is a country with such a strong collective memory—almost every person knows at least one person who’s died in combat, but everyone can also tell the stories of a friend of a friend. Yom Hazikaron isn’t just a commercial holiday and a day off from school; it’s emotional ceremonies, memories, and sharing your love and pain with your community.
Yom Hazikaron in BINA, in addition to having a heavy emotional toll on its own, came on the heels of our West Bank Seminar. One concept that’s come up most often this year is that Israel is a complex, sometimes even contradictory place, and multiple stories can exist side by side without cancelling each other out. The West Bank Seminar was a very heavy trip, allowing us to do everything from seeing Hebron with Breaking the Silence to speaking with settlers from Gush Etzion and learning from a joint Jewish-Palestinian nonviolence group called Roots that was founded in Beit Ummar. It forced each of us to face a lot of difficult truths about Israel and its treatment of the people under its power, but those truths are so important for us to grapple with. I realized that these are probably some of the most important realizations I could have come to on a year that I took to renew my love for Israel.
This feeling was strengthened the evening of Yom Hazikaron, which was the same day the seminar ended. BINA joined our neighbors at the Shapira Community Center’s Yom Hazikaron ceremony. We started off by standing for the siren and moment of silence together; we heard the names of fallen soldiers from Shapira; and we ended the night on the BINA campus singing what’s known as “Warrior Songs” together, songs about or by soldiers.
The entire experience was emotional; most of the crowd, including myself, was crying by the end. The minutes following the end of both the ceremony and the singing were met by people rushing to their friends, attempting to comfort them while holding back tears of their own. This is what reminded me: I love Israel. Even with the dilemmas from the West Bank Seminar hanging over my head, even with all the problems I’ve faced living here this year, I love Israel, and I want to make it better. And that’s why I’m hearing about the difficulties faced by Palestinians in the West Bank, and crying with my friends on Yom Hazikaron, and learning everything I can on how to be a better activist. I love Israel, and that’s why I’m here.