Return / by Susie Lubell

Return, acrylic on canvas

When we lived in the United States I'll admit that I mostly forgot when it was Memorial Day in Israel. My kids went to a Jewish preschool and most of our friends were Israeli but we rarely marked the occasion in any kind of significant way. My Israeli husband would listen to Israeli radio and wish he was home but that was true for much of the rest of the year also. The next day, Israeli Independence Day, we would get together with friends and barbeque if it happened to be the weekend. Otherwise it just kind of came and went. Like Shmini Atzeret or Lag B'Omer. Even last year, our first Memorial Day/Independence Day in Israel, I didn't feel the real power of the two holidays. We were up north for a long weekend and spent the days hiking and picnicking so we kind of missed everything.

But this year the holiday fell in the middle of the week so we stayed at home and after we put the kids to bed we sat and watched interviews on television of the families of fallen soldiers. I would have benefited from English subtitles but truthfully the stories could have been in Japanese and I would have understood. The first story was of a young man from a Druze village in the North who had been killed in Lebanon in 1993. My husband fought in Lebanon in 1993. His father spoke with a tight throat about his beautiful, smart, enthusiastic son and I looked at that young man and just sobbed. When they heard the terrible news, the boy's mother told her husband that he would return. They both knew it wasn't possible but how do you let go of your son? Two years later she was pregnant and the doctors told her she would have a baby girl. She insisted it was a boy. She was right. The young man is now eighteen. He is named for the brother he never knew.

I finally went to bed after three or four of these vignettes feeling completely hollowed. I spent the next day painting, listening to sad songs on the radio and wishing I could go home. My home. Where my kids don't have to serve in the army. Where Memorial Day kicks off the season to wear white pants and everything is on sale. Where the sacrifices you make as a Jew are limited to the Little League games you miss because of Yom Kipur.

And then without so much as a closing prayer or a siren warning, it is suddenly Independence Day and the country erupts in a frenzy of shaving cream, neon glow things, hava nagila and shish kabob.  And I sit in the audience at the community pageant watching the eleven year old girls dance to Israeli hip hop and Israeli folk music and I listen to performers sing classic Israeli children's songs and I watch the fireworks and soon my mood is lifted and I am filled with national pride. I have drunk the punch. The time for mourning has passed and I am ready to return to something a little less extreme.