Memorial Day in Tel Aviv

ERNEST HEMINGWAY SAID that each person is a product of the landscape of both a native land and an adoptive land.

I feel the power of the statement as I rush to squeeze my rented Fiat into a parking space in front of a beauty parlor. The moment I glance at the clock and realize it is eleven o’clock, the melancholic music played on the national radio today is abruptly cut. A siren pierces the Tel Aviv skies. A long, sharp, straight line of shrill joins the echo of dozens of others, and together they weave a thick, pulsating blanket that holds the city in its demanding urgency.

The signal for the moment of silence in honor of the men and women killed in the battles of Israel is a repeat of the one that last night marked the start of Memorial Day.

In an instant, I am reminded of the fable of the sleep curse cast upon a kingdom, where the citizens all fall asleep at the same moment, wherever they are: at the cooking pot, on the milking bench, by the water well. As the siren erupts, I hastily desert my car, now parked lopsided against the sidewalk like a novocained grin. I stand at attention.

Across the street in the school yard, a group of soccer players is standing still; the ball continues its slow roll. The boys’ expressions are solemn. No snickering, no sneak elbowing. Up and down the street, cars have stopped. Their owners are standing outside the open doors, frozen. Through the beauty shop window I see the hairdresser standing erect. Two customers have ejected themselves from their chairs and are glued to the spots where their feet have landed.

Strangers to one another, we stand united by the images floating on the projection screens of our minds. We see fresh faces, taut bodies, eager eyes, optimistic smiles—men and women who are no longer with us. Carved in time, the dead remain forever young.

I lower my head and allow a wave of sorrow for the soldiers I once knew to wash over me. Amiram, my high school classmate, with a mischievous grin, was fearless. The first to go, he was my first devastating loss, and got more tears than I had imagined my eyes could store. Asher will forever remain the tall, blond, and freckled fifteen-year-old I was in love with, and who, across the classroom, shyly let me know that he shared those feelings. The last time I bumped into him, we were both in military uniform, riding the bus. He inquired about my boyfriend, and rushed off.  Uri, with laughing green eyes, at twenty-eight loved the theater and, in between piloting war planes, dove into the lecture halls at the university, accumulating credits in literature. He waited patiently for my marriage to dissolve. When I finally separated, I learned that he had been killed three weeks before.

The sirens continue to reverberate in the endless, open sky, where nothing stops their piercing sound. I don’t want the moment to pass; I want to stay with the young men who populate my world of “what ifs.”

I look around at the contemporary high-rises with colorful awnings and the artistically paved sidewalks. The landscape in the front yards of the buildings and in the street islands is that of fire: Birds of Paradise encircled by roses in red, orange, pink, and yellow. Yet, the fragrance that reaches my nostrils is soft. Rosemary and Iavender.

The breeze moves the tops of the trees gently, nudging us all back to life. Unlike the citizens of the cursed kingdom who wake up unchanged and within seconds resume life, the citizens of Israel, although they unfreeze to keep on walking, driving ears, playing ball, and blow-drying hair, will never wake up from the curse of the cutouts left by the disappearance of young lives.

And young lives are continuing to be claimed. The men I once knew and loved are being replaced by the sons and daughters of my friends. It never stops. Day after tomorrow, across the ocean, I will be back at my other land, whose landscape is comforting, undemanding. Its soil never blackmailed me for the blood of such as Amiram, Asher, and Uri. In three weeks. Memorial Day will be celebrated in my adoptive land. The day will be marked by baton-twirling parades, super sales at Macy’s, and barbeques at the beaches. Only those whose losses have been very direct will remember the cemeteries.

Talia Carner, an Israeli-Born writer now living in long Island, New York, won the Bialik award for literature at age 10. Her personal essays have appeared in the New York Times and other publications