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Monday, April 19, 2010

Alone on a bridge (with everyone else)

At 11:00 AM this morning I was on my way into Jerusalem to pick up my daughter.  I was driving my scooter across a bridge that spans a valley between two mountain tunnels when all around me the sound of air raid sirens filled the air. 

I wasn't alarmed, though.  I was expecting this.

It is Memorial Day here in Israel... the day before our independence day.   Today, all over the county people pause to remember and honor the men and women who have fallen in Israel's wars. 

In a country where everyone - men and women - gets a draft notice for military service after high school, everyone is related to someone. or knew someone who paid the ultimate price for freedom.

At exactly 11:00 AM a two minute siren sounds throughout the length and breadth of the country, and everywhere - in offices, in shopping malls, on highways, and of course, in cemeteries -  people stop whatever they are doing - even driving - stand at attention with head bowed, and remember.

When the sirens started, all the traffic around me stopped and the drivers and passengers got out and stood silently on the pavement beside their cars.  I got off my scooter, put it up on its stand, and took off my helmet.

For two minutes the only sound there on the bridge was the plaintive wail of the siren from the nearby neighborhood of Gilo... and the soft sobbing of a policeman who was standing next to his cruiser two cars in front of me.  His female partner on the opposite side of the car soon joined him, though her sobs were silent; given away only be the way her shoulders shook.

When the siren finally trailed off, everyone got back into (or onto) their vehicles, and the sound of cars and motorcycles starting filled the deck of the bridge.  And slowly the line of traffic began to move again towards Jerusalem.

Anyone who has ever ridden a scooter or motorcycle is familiar with the feeling of being alone... even in heavy traffic.  The cars are full of people, and even the single drivers have the company of the radio and four walls.  I'm not complaining, mind you... I like the two wheeled experience.  But I have to admit that it was a special moment there on the bridge this memorial day, having all those drivers step out into the fresh mountain air, and join me in my solitude.

Posted by David Bogner on April 19, 2010 | Permalink

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powerful post. I have been in Israel for Yom HaZikaron and the experience of those unifying two minutes is almost indescribable.

Posted by: Hadassah | Apr 19, 2010 3:37:27 PM

And THAT pegs the feeling of being here. For even when we are alone, we don't feel quite that way, knowing that we are surrounded by family.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Apr 19, 2010 3:53:12 PM

Mark and I were in the new Ikea this morning, and at about 11:10 realized that they had not sounded a siren in the store. We were very surprised, and disappointed with their decision. They were certainly aware of the fact that today was Yom HaZikaron as there was a "yizkor" sign and candle at the entrance to the store. It was very strange.

Posted by: Rachel | Apr 19, 2010 6:11:59 PM

I miss being in Israel on days like this. OK, I miss it *every* day, but especially on days like this.
Thanks for reminding me, David.

Posted by: Soferet Avielah Barclay | Apr 20, 2010 1:03:00 AM

What strikes me is that eight years ago, you wouldn't have dared stop on the bridge. I recently had shabbat dinner at the home of someone whose car was shot up on that bridge in 2002. His wife and daughter were killed. Like you, he sees that bridge as connecting Gush Etzion and Jerusalem, going under Gilo. You don't mention that it goes under Beit Jalla and Bethlehem. It shortens the morning commute for Jews from Hevron and the Gush (settlers) and from Tzur Hadassah and Bet Shemesh (not settlers). So convenient. So easy to forget about the neighbors.

Posted by: Simcha Daniel Burstyn | Apr 20, 2010 1:47:32 AM

I get the same feeling when i ride my bike.

Posted by: jacob | Apr 20, 2010 3:16:30 AM

l'havdil like Shabbat in the middle of shiva

Posted by: Batya from Shiloh | Apr 21, 2010 3:23:35 PM

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