Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day – has always been special in my heart. Well since the first time I heard of it in 8th grade that is. Back then the non-Zionistic school I went to simply never mentioned it rather than giving us their negative perspective. So when, at age 13, I discovered the existence of this holiday, I rallied my friends to don blue and white and bring in homemade Israeli flags for the occasion. Big mistake! We got into lots of trouble. But the lasting impression was made, and I never spent another Yom Ha’atzmaut in a non-Zionistic environment.
Of course there was nothing like the anticipation of our first Yom Ha’atzmaut in Israel as Israelis, 6 years ago. Pregnant and nearly due with my youngest child, I thought the date would make a great birthday for him. Little did I expect him to go along with my plans. Besides, I had a very exciting event to attend. In Israeli communities such as ours, a moving Yom Ha’atzmaut ceremony is de rigueur. In Neve Daniel the two traditional flag dances are performed by the children in kindergarten and by the 7th graders. As my oldest daughter Shira was in the 7th grade I was bursting with excitement to watch my child be a part of this moving Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration. Alas, it was not to be – but for the best of reasons. Apparently taking my wishes to heart, my son Yaakov arrived that very Yom Ha’atzmaut night.
I was not to be without forever. As each of my children entered the 7th grade, in the back of my mind I would have that glimmer of anticipation of the ceremony to come. Another community-wide celebration in the fall features a flag dance as well, but for the 9th graders. Between the two grades, I have had many opportunities to see my children waving massive blue and white Israeli flags amongst their peers, marching to emotional Israeli music. But I had yet to have a child in kindergarten participate.
This year, when my Yom Ha’atzmaut baby entered kindergarten, eight months before Independence Day, I was already beginning to anticipate the emotional experience for me at this year’s ceremony when I would not only have my son Ezra in the 7th graders’ flag dance, but little Yaakov in that sweet, adorable kindergarten group. I couldn’t wait!
Two weeks before the big event they began to have practices. Ezra of course went independently, but I had to organize for Yaakov to go, and usually stay there with him. I made sure to have him go to practice with one of his best friends, Temima, figuring this will help keep it social and fun. I didn’t expect that Temima would need as much coaxing as Yaakov did to stay with it. But stay with it they did. They went to most of the practices, and practiced for most of the time they were there. I watched them dance, and gave plenty of praise. I bought ice cream, pizza, and yummy drinks. Between practices I coached and encouraged.
The day of the ceremony I washed all Yaakov’s clothes so he would have his pick of all his blue and white clothing. I made sure to give him dinner before he went so he wouldn’t be hungry. I got there as early as I could so he wouldn’t feel nervous. As the initial part of the ceremony began Yaakov began to be clingy and grouchy. I began to get nervous. When he uttered the words, “I don’t want to do it,” I began to panic. Nothing was beneath me when it came to getting Yaakov to be a part of the ceremony. Heck, I waited six years for these six minutes, I wasn’t letting a little pre-school moodiness get in my way! I coaxed and cajoled, begged and pleaded, and even offered him to name his bribe. But to no avail. As all the other children with their streamers and little plastic flags filed onto the field for their performance, Yaakov was stubbornly sitting in my lap. I couldn’t believe it. Not only was he ruining my dream, but he was messing up my inspiration for an article.
I sat and moped for a bit. I grumbled. I allowed my disappointment to run its course. Finally I turned to Yaakov, gave him a hug, and wished him a happy birthday. After all, Yom Ha’atzmaut is not about flag dances and ceremonies. It’s about celebrating the miracle of our independence. And so, I guess my son wasn’t so far off: he was simply declaring his independence on Independence Day.
© 2009, Laura Ben-David
Laura Ben-David is the author of MOVING UP: An Aliyah Journal (Mazo Publishers). Laura began writing when she made Aliyah in 2002, and hasn’t stopped. To order MOVING UP, send an email to email@example.com.