Ok- for those who don’t know what a shidduch is, it’s when a matchmaker (or a friend these days) “sets you up” with a potential partner. Or a “connection”. There are even professionals who get paid to do this. It’s a very, very Jewish concept that some other similarly “ethnic” cultures embrace.
Tonight, April 17, began Yom Hazikaron. It is a day to honor fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism here. About 30,000 people since the founding of the State 70 years ago. An astoundingly high number when you consider just how small of a country Israel is- and was at its founding. With a population of just 806,000 in 1948 to 8.8 million today, 30,000 lives lost is a lot. More than an American or European can possibly understand in recent history.
Having never observed this holiday in Israel, I decided to go to the community center by my house- Beit Dani. The center itself is named after a fallen soldier Daniel whose family lit a flame in his honor tonight. There were several hundred people gathered. With a solemnity I haven’t seen in Israel- not even on Yom Kippur.
A choir sang sad songs. Flames were lit by families of the deceased. A Member of the Knesset, incidentally an openly gay one which was kind of cool, read a moving speech. His name is Amir Ohana and he’s the first LGBT parliamentarian of the Likud. I’m not usually a fan of his party, but I admire his courage in being himself and today isn’t really about politics. It’s about memory. He was really nice and we took a cute selfie.
I walked over to the other side of the event where a screen showed a slideshow of all 37 young people whose lives were lost- from my neighborhood alone. You simply can’t understand the magnitude. It has only 11,480 residents, like a small town in America. Everyone either lost someone in their family or knows someone who did. It’s a moving and sad experience to watch the names and pictures of these young people scroll down. Over and over.
I noticed a middle-aged woman alone- tears welling up. She asked how I knew how to zoom in on my camera. I showed her and then told her, being a good Israeli, that I’d just take the picture for her.
The picture she needed was of her brother. Yoram Hayu. Killed in 1977 in a helicopter crash at the age of 18. He started the army a year early because he was that motivated. While he grew up in Hatikvah, he also was a kibbutznik- perhaps during his army service. He was Smadar’s older brother, apparently a hit with the ladies, and now he was gone.
Smadar, the woman, she’s from my neighborhood. She was at the ceremony alone, with her mom at home. This was the first time she had been to the memorial ceremony in our community. Since 1977 when her brother was killed. She had been to other events, but not right here where they grew up together. She was visibly moved and sad.
In America, when you see a stranger who’s sad you probably just say you’re sorry. People are protective of boundaries and also more distant.
Here, seeing Smadar alone and sad, I simply hugged her. And she held me, we swayed, we shared in the sadness and I tried to bring her some comfort. Because a greeting card doesn’t say I love you. That’s how Israelis do.
I told her that I was grateful to her brother and all the soldiers who made it possible for me to live here. She stopped me: “don’t say thank you. You don’t need to. It was an obligation- his service. It’s our obligation as Israelis. If you want to honor his memory, live your life to the fullest. Enjoy and appreciate every moment you breathe.”
It was so affirming. So brave. She asked me about my aliyah and my life. Of course, she asked me if I was married. When I said no, she said she’d look for someone. And I said: “I’m gay, it needs to be a guy.” She said: “hmm, that can be tricky in Hatikvah, but I have a hairstylist who’s gay and has a partner- I’ll ask him for names.” Then, she told me she’d ask her friend if I could go to his Independence Day barbecue.
As the evening drew to a close, I told her: “only in Israel can you make a shidduch on Yom Hazikaron!” We laughed and laughed. It’s really true- we’re a people more than any other that knows how to draw out the honey from the wound. And make the best of life. With Syria and Iran threatening us, with slides of fallen soldiers still scrolling behind us, Smadar and I smiled as we said goodbye. Her second shidduch may be finding me a nice guy.
But her first one was becoming my friend.