The siren sounds, and everything stops. It is Memorial Day (6 May), a bit like Remembrance Day in Britain, and at the sound of the siren at 11am, everyone stands still wherever they are. Even cars stop and the drivers get out.
Last night many people gathered at the memorial wall near the promenade in Tiberias to hear the names read out of those who had died as soldiers in the IDF (Israeli Defence Force). Many were in tears.
I find it a very meaningful time, though one is conscious that it is for only part of the community, as most of the Arab community would not particularly join in. Next week will be Nakba Day for the Arabs, when they remember the catastrophe of 1948 when many had to leave their homes and even go into exile. Only Nakba Day is not a recognised holiday, and now it has become difficult to teach about it in schools.
This has been a time of holidays. We had Pesach (Passover) just a couple of weeks ago, often a time when Israelis take their holidays. It begins with the Seder meal, and this year I was invited to a friends’ home, where ten of us sat round the table and went through the Haggadah, the Passover liturgy and ate the traditional food.. Quite different from the kibbutz seder which I attended last year, where hundreds of people had come together. I feel privileged to have had the experience of both.
For Christians it was, of course, Holy Week and Easter, and I had started it on Palm Sunday at the Anglican Church at Raineh, which I often attend. After the service we process round the village waving our branches and joining with our friends from the Latin and Greek Catholic churches and led by the Scout band. I think it is a boost to the Christian population and strengthens their spirits in often difficult times. As the week progressed, we held services for Maunday Thursday and Good Friday in Tiberias, then a Dawn Service on Easter morning (to which 5 people came, to my surprise) at which we witnessed a marvellous sunrise over the Lake. Then, even more to my surprise, 35 people attended the evening service (mostly Dutch pilgrims, but not exclusively so).
Easter Monday was also the final day of the Pesach holiday, but also was the holy day for the Druze, and my friend Samir from the Hotel had invited me to the Nabi Shu’eib shrine for the celebrations. Druze from all over Galilee came, but only men. For this particular day, women are not allowed for some reason. There was a festive atmosphere, and everyone seemed to have their portable stoves to brew up some Arabic coffee. Government officials and also leaders from the other faith communities gave speeches to wish the Druze, ‘Hag Sameach’ (Happy Holiday!).