ISRAEL: Holocaust remembrance day begins loaded week
This is the most loaded week in Israel's year. One week of grounding; an anchor, a reality-check, the center of gravity.
Holocaust Remembrance Day is being marked Thursday. In exactly one week,the country shall commemorate its war and terror victims, back to back with Independence Day the following day. The essence of Israeliness compressed into a week of transitions: past to present, grief to celebration, individual to collective, Jew to Israeli.
The changes are sharp, nearly impossible at times. Yet most Israelis are accustomed to furious swinging of the pendulum of its national mood and emotions.
A week apart, Holocaust Remembrance and Independence Day - with the price paid for the latter in between - are bookends containing the modern text of a nation; the commemoration days were among the first laws passed by Israeli governments.
This year, aside from remembering those who perished, Holocaust Remembrance Day is dedicated to the living survivors. "On this day more than any other day - we bow deeply in gratitude; we stand erect in boundless pride of the contribution by Holocaust survivors to building this country," said Prime Minister Olmert last night at Yad VaShem.
But it is more than gratitude the aging survivors need. 90,000 of the 260,000 survivors living in Israel today live below the line of poverty. Olmert also admitted that "the State did not always fulfill its duty to the survivors. Regrettably, we sinned and failed by depriving the survivors of their right to live a life of quality and dignity... We spoke of the Holocaust and its lessons, of the murderers and their victims, but our eyes were blind to some of the survivors who lived lives of wretchedness and poverty. There is no justification for this nor can it be forgiven." We have changed this, he said, with the allocation of special funds.
Many survivors did not talk about their experiences during the country's early years. Too fresh, too raw, too alien the contradiction to the strong, self-reliant Sabra image Israel was trying to forge. Busy building its future, the young nation embraced survivors as immigrants with a role in the national enterprise but less as individual witnesses. Few asked. Even fewer answered.
The trial of Adolph Eichmann marked the change. 110 survivors testified in the trial, which undid the unspoken vow of silence. Survivors were recognized as individuals, with experiences that were personal and not only collective. The Holocaust acquired faces and names, and the often oppressive silence in which survivors' children were raised began to be put into words. Israel's population in 1961, the year of the trial, was 2 million. Of these, a quarter were holocaust survivors.
Next week, Memorial Day for Israel's fallen soldiers and terror victims will end with the customary display of fireworks. The sharp, loud sounds will bring people out of a week of sombre introspection and usher in celebrations, partying and cheerful unruliness.
The Hebrew term for fireworks is "zikukei dinur," from the Aramaic for "sparks of fire." After the war, some Holocaust survivors had adopted the new family name of "Dinur." Also Aramaic, it means "of the fire."
—Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem
Photos: Top, a sculpture in memory of the Warsaw ghetto fighters (Revesz, 1961), Kibbutz Maale Hahamisha. Deputy Defense minister Matan Vilnai, speaking at a ceremony at memorial for the Warsaw ghetto fighters (sculpture by Revesz, 1961), Kibbutz Maale Hahamisha. Credit: Batsheva Sobelman/Los Angeles Times