As the coronavirus continues to transform our lives, each week brings a new challenge. For the Jewish people it was how to celebrate Passover, for Christians Easter and now for Muslims the month of Ramadan. Each holiday presents its own set of dilemmas, but in all cases the main problem is not being able to be with loved ones at a sacred time.
Next week Israel will be faced with observing Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day) during a national lockdown. These two commemorations, one deeply sad, the other joyful, are embedded in the Israeli psyche. While in America Memorial Day is a time to go to the beach and marks the first weekend of summer, in Israel it is a true national day to remember the fallen.
This year, however, the military cemeteries in Israel will be closed since normally they would be packed with family members visiting the graves of their loved ones who fell in Israel’s wars. Keeping them open could possibly lead to a second wave of the virus exploding only a few weeks later. While many families are heartbroken, they also understand. Their dear ones made the ultimate sacrifice so others could live; it’s only fair that they sacrifice visiting the graves so others now can live.
Israel also marks these two days with a live national ceremony that transitions from the pain of Yom HaZikaron to the happiness of Yom HaAtzmaut. This year that event will take place without an audience, and it will be interesting to see how the tone changes. It won’t be the same with prerecorded speeches and torch lightings, but perhaps it will take on new meaning.
In America we don’t have a similar national ceremony that unites the whole country, unless you count sports, which most likely will return in a similar fashion, without an audience. How will that work? The National Hockey League commissioner suggested that when his sport returns for games in empty arenas, they will have to pipe in crowd noise, but will it feel like a sitcom with canned laughter?
The coronavirus has forced us to create new rituals with virtual Shabbat services and Shivas. We have to celebrate and comfort one another at a distance. But there are secular rituals we must recreate as well. Perhaps we might take something from Israel and use Memorial Day in this country to remember all the people who sacrificed for us, especially since we probably won’t be able to go to the beach in many states. Maybe rather than fireworks, on July 4 we can all gather round the modern hearth (our screens) and celebrate the best of us, the people who make possible all the blessings we enjoy in life.