There’s a weird buffer zone between Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut.
A no man’s land, where the streets are oddly clear of any pedestrian traffic and the buses are wonderfully empty.
Flags loom larger than shadows of buildings.
The night started, simply, with a BBQ.
Haul out the mangal. Crack open the Carlsberg. Put a beach tee under your white shirt.
Everyone said it. Happy Holiday.
And Ma’ariv was recited from a living room with the addition of Hallel, the musically trained occupants harmonising beautifully.
The spread was generous and the chips were to die for.
I stayed. All night. Because the party downtown would only begin when everything else was closed and this year, I wasn’t going to miss it.
We’re in a cab. It has cameras so one of my companions makes a joke about being in the monit hakesef, the quiz game show that takes place in a taxi.
Confidence and excitement leads to comments of certainty that we would win and lamentations that some people were just so stupid.
“For example- on what day is the 9th of Av.”
We all laugh.
Our driver, in a mizrachi twang, starts a riddle war with us, making us laugh with his mind bending puns and jokes
He’s the most quintessential mizrachi cab driver, one hand on the wheel the other occasionally grabbing garanim, head shaved in the style of Eyal. THE Eyal.
He’s brash but affectionate, in your face but disarming, inclusive.
We laugh on cue, going back and forth playing games that only need the Hebrew language to be enjoyed.
“Todah Raba, achi. Chag Sameach.”
To be honest, I’m sad to say goodbye.
We’re out of the cab on our way to Kikar Safra, the square in front of City Hall where a bimah was erected and sober revellers would unselfconsciously dance those Zionistic dances out of step. The ones they learnt in gan and elementary. The ones immortalised by women wearing shorts and white shirts in black and white photos. The ones they saw in historical videos of kibbutz life and that moment when Independence was declared.
Dancing in circles. Delicate steps. Hands swaying upward like a ribbon’s descent after being thrown towards the skies.
And we get there and it’s sweet and fun as I imagined it would be.
There are seminary girls and yeshivah boys, and married couples, the type where she is in leggings, a short shift and a doughnut mitpachat, and he is in an open checkered shirt over a white Hanes and tight jeans.
There are cool customers without kippahs in carefully chosen party -all- night outfits, swaying jokingly.
That guy dressed like a beach bum surfer dances all night, a head taller than the rest of the crowd.
The woman nearing her seventies leads a circle.
That one in the kaftan picks up the steps quickly.
And on stage it’s the same.
Sober but joyful.
Happy, silly, grateful.
“Chag Sameach l’kulam.”
When we leave we head towards Yafo.
The city is alive. The main thoroughfare is covered in human mass, every inch taken up by a light and human feet. It’s 2:00 AM and the city centre is at its most tzafuf.
There is a row of blue and white bunting festooned along the street and guys selling inflatable Hebrew Hammers as two girls skip along quickly, trying to bypass them and the crowd, the sea of people.
Ben Yehudah is like a rave gone wrong.
I jokingly agree with my friend that the crowd is different here. “If I say arsim too loudly I might get knifed.”
It was the hour of aggressive fights between boyfriend and girlfriend, broken beer bottles and tuneless dubstep and vomiting in the street and people screaming with inebriation.
Ben Yehuda was chaos.
I was glad to leave it behind.
When I passed my beloved shuk it was much of the same, the crowd a little older, but no less drunk, the sea of humanity impossible to navigate.
So I kept going, zigzagging my way through a dance party that had popped up in the mini parking lot in front of the Natural Food bakery.
A guy, being held up by friends, was clearly passed the point of no return.
The clusters of people thinned out after I walked passed the ever popular Josef’s Burger.
Someone stopped me as I made it to the sidewalk of Shmuel Baruch.
“Let’s ask someone who isn’t from here-”
“Hey, excuse me.”
A man with slick black hair and an Australian accent blocked my path, stopping me in my tracks with his loud English.
He removed a scarf he was wearing over his t-shirt.
“By wearing this, do you assume I’m a terrorist?’
Huh. Man it’s 2:30 am and I just want to go home.
“Ten people have stopped me and told me to take it off because it makes me a terrorist,” he went on.
After a night of praising G-d, mangal, then dancing Zionist folk dances, and being the hachi israeli sh’yesh I wasn’t in the mood.
To be challenged.
I looked up the road.
Maybe this tiny annoyance was a reminder.
That everyday here was a challenge.
I tried gathering my thoughts, tried forming the words that would say yes, I understand your frustration and just because your scarf resembles a Keffiyeh, doesn’t make you a person with nefarious thoughts. Wearing a Keffiyeh has nothing do with terrorism. Wearing one is a symbol of something and it has nothing to do with politics. I wouldn’t judge you. They shouldn’t. But, one of the bloodiest leaders of the PLO wore one and they have bad associations with it. It’s wrong but it is what it is.
It was 2:30 AM, so obviously none of that came out of my mouth.
“I find that very racist. I’m just wearing it to stay warm. You wouldn’t find me a terrorist,” he kept going. Thing was, it barely looked like a keffiyeh. It was blue, the checks were in the wrong pattern. It was too short. It was snaked around his neck like a winter scarf, not a triangular shape like others with political agendas might wear it.
“No, I wouldn’t. But it goes both ways. You might assume something false about a person in a yarmulka. We shouldn’t assume things.”
He did’t seem to be listening. “Right, ya. King George is that way?”
“Yes, keep going straight for a while.”
“Thanks, have a good night.”
“You too. Stay warm.”
It left me unsettled and I came down from the joyful high I had felt, watching young and old happily dance the steps of the pioneers, peacemakers, innovators, educators, linguists, poets, drainage engineers, men and women who thought I will dance like I will it and it is no longer a dream.
It forced me to spare a sad thought for the people behind the wall who were being restricted in their freedom to move around tonight, so we could celebrate.
I got home, took down some notes from my strange night, and went to sleep.
In the morning I remedied the hipster black outfit from the night before and managed to pull some kachol v’lavan together.
I made iced coffee to go and headed out to Gan Sacher to see the planes fly over the Knesset.
Families with Ikea mats and portable grills were streaming down the hillocks and pathways, tying their flags to trees in preparation.
A boy with an inflatable hammer ran in circles around me.
His brother played with spray can “sheleg.”
A man wheeled a sofa onto the green, holding one end aloft, the bottom end rolling along with a store stocking cart.
Then came the glamour of the airforce.
Tzofit, Karnaf, Shamoshon, Nachson, Baz, Ra’am, Barak, Adir.
As they flew over our heads, black and white images of the old Czech planes salvaged form WWII came to me as I watched, fatigue induced sluggishness tilting my head back.
Those images in my mind’s eye bled into others.
The joy on the streets of November 29th 1947, the joy of two new possible states.
The people clambering onto trucks, waving flags, dancing in circles. A little teymani girl in a pinafore. A woman in a scarf smuggled out of Russia, drying her tears.
I looked around me. The girl was still here, her plaid smock a little more modern. That old woman’s grandson sat manning a grill. Traffic was littered with cars sporting flags on their windows.
I ended up at another BBQ, this time on the moshav, with family and friends who are my family too.
I devoured the naknikiyot and ate too many fries.
I didn’t care. I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t concerned about the difficulties of life.
I was free to feel safe and happy and liberated.
There’s a weird buffer zone between the afternoon of Yom Ha’atzmaut and the day’s nadir.
The heat feels oppressive, parties hang on to one last strand of energy.
A karaoke party is clinging on for dear life in the apartment building across from mine as I type this.
I can still hear Arik Einstein, Shlomo Artzi, Eyal Golan, Ehud Banai and others, piping out of rooms, coming at me from every which way.
And tomorrow, we’ll go back to uncertainty and responsibility. We the nation, and we the individuals.
But for one day we were full of joy and hakarat hatov and unbelievable relief.