Monday, April 16, 2007

Holocaust memorial sirens = normality

http://israel-like-this-as-if.blogspot.com/2007/04/holocaust-memorial-sirens-normality.html

Holocaust Remembrance Day is in progress at the moment. Yom HaShaoah, as it is called in Hebrew, is a unique part of Israeli life.

At mid-morning, sirens sound throughout the country for two minutes. When the sirens begin, people stop what they are doing and stand silently in memory of six million Jews murdered in the Nazi-led Holocaust. When the sirens stop, daily life picks up where it left off.

Today I was on Ben Yehuda Street when the sirens went off at 10 a.m. As usual, pedestrians halted on the sidewalk. Motorists got out of their cars and stood in the street.

While the sirens were still sounding, a big, expensive automobile drove past.

One seldom sees such a disrespectful act on this day in Tel Aviv. I won't try to comment further on it. Instead here is something I wrote in a diary three years ago.

=======
Holocaust remembrance day (Monday, April 19, 2004)


A few minutes after 9 a.m. the screen goes dark and the computer shuts down. The radios are suddenly silent, and the emergency lantern is lit. A power failure.

Going down into the stairwell to check the circuit-breakers, I encounter a downstairs neighbor. His apartment is also without electricity.

I telephone the electric company. A computer voice answers. As of 9 a.m., it says, no power outages are scheduled. The voices advises me to check that the problem isn't in my circuit breaker. Next, the voice asks me to key in my area code and telephone number. The computer does a quick lookup, and the voice tells me the problem is in Tel Aviv, on my street, in my building. It tells me which key to press if other apartments in the building lack power. I do it.

After I hang up, the thought starts occurring to me that something bigger may be wrong. Power outages where I live are rare, and the electric company usually restores service quickly. I listen to the 9:30 news update on a battery-powered radio which I keep in the apartment for emergencies. Nothing unusual on the radio. Just the usual tensions. The radio devotes its main discussion to the Holocaust, which is being remembered today in memorial ceremonies throughout the country.

Ten minutes later I hear a woman's voice, shouting: "Hello! Hello! Down there! Do you have electricity?"

From my kitchen windows, I see the shouting is coming from the penthouse of the building next door. This neighbor has never spoken to me before. I spoke to her husband once, a former city official, when he came in to vote where I was a poll-watcher in the last national elections and I had to verify that he was who he said he was. Apart from that, we have had no other contact. Now she is asking a question, and I hear anxiety in her tone.

"We don't have electricity in this building," I tell her. "I reported it a half-hour ago."

"Has there been an attack?" (We are speaking Hebrew, and she uses the word pih-goo-'ah, which denotes an act of sabotage and has come to connote terrorism.) "Like in the United States?" I understand this as an allusion to 9/11.

"There was nothing on the radio," I tell her.

I go out onto the front balcony. I see that a woman is cleaning the sliding glass doors in a third-floor apartment across the way. I want to believe that all is normal in Tel Aviv. But the thought that something sinister may be behind the power failure won't go away.

Then I hear the sirens.

It is 10 a.m., and the sirens are sounding around the country, as they do every year on Israel's Holocaust memorial day. The sirens reassure me. Everything is okay, I tell myself. If there had been an attack big enough to knock out electricity in Tel Aviv, the sirens wouldn't be working, would they? The reasoning is false, but this doesn't occur to me until later. At the moment, the woman across the way has stopped wiping the glass doors and is standing at semi-attention on a balcony, looking out at the street. I see no other sign of life.

After two minutes, the sirens stop. Immediately, an automobile noisily turns a corner into my street and two men in work clothes stride purposefully into a building entrance. They had been standing out of my line of sight during the sirens.

A few minutes later the electricity comes back on. On this memorial day that has become part of our life, all seems normal.

-- Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv

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