In Jerusalem, 5649 miles from where I type this, they are celebrating Yom Haatzmaut, one of the most exciting holidays of the year. Yom Haatzmaut celebrates the creation of the State of Israel. Israelis take to the streets for a day of celebration. But before the party, before the independence, came the struggle.

The day before Yom Haatzmaut is Yom Hazikaron, Israeli Memorial Day. On Yom Hazikaron, Israelis and Jews around the world remember all of those who have fought and died for Israel. I didn’t have a full understanding of the holiday until my junior year of college. The summer before, the world watched as the Israel-Lebanon war unfolded, resulting in the deaths of well over 1,000 people. Of those people, 121 of them were Israeli Defense Force soldiers. And of those 121 soldiers, one of them was Michael Levin, an American oleh, or immigrant, who I had met eight months earlier in Jerusalem.

On Yom Hazikaron that year, UMD Hillel arranged a screening of “A Hero in Heaven,” the documentary made about Michael’s life. That night, I met a student named Elie Berman, who, like Michael, joined the Israeli army as a lone soldier, a soldier with no immediate family in Israel. When he completed his service, Elie enrolled at Maryland as a 21-year-old freshman. Our conversation that night led to a story about Elie’s time in the army, which garnered me both praise from Jewish groups and angry comments on the website.

All of these things were on my mind throughout the day as I saw friends’ tweets about the holiday and Yom Hazikaron posts on Facebook. Then Aimee, a friend from my second trip to Israel who had also met Michael, sent me a message. Last night she ran a program in conjunction with Birthright Israel in Chicago, part of which was a viewing of “A Hero in Heaven.” The full movie isn’t available to watch online, but here is one of the few clips I could find. Since his death, the Michael Levin Memorial Center for Lone Soldiers has opened in Jerusalem, providing assistance and warm meals for lone soldiers.

From there I went to YouTube and found a video taken of a highway in Tel Aviv on Yom Hazikaron 2007. In Israel, a two-minute siren is sounded throughout the country, first at 8:00 p.m. and then the next day at 11 a.m. During those two minutes, the entire country comes to a standstill, as you’ll see in the video. In typical Melissa fashion, I found myself wiping away tears as the two minutes slowly passed.

That led me to a clip of David Ben-Gurion announcing the establishment of the State of Israel. Yep, you guessed it. More tears. (I can’t help it, people. Cut a girl some slack!)

From Al Gore’s 1998 speech of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Israel:
“A half century ago at one minute after midnight, your mothers and fathers proclaimed your freedom. In the morning they sent their children to prepare for war. The dream and the struggle were still one. And so they still are one.”

We’re now at the conclusion of Yom Hazikaron in this part of the world, and at the beginning of Yom Haatzmaut. The somber has turned into celebration, and I will celebrate from the comfort of my home with my Israeli music. First up, “Tutim”…

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