If this year is anything like last year, I will weather July fourth at a family barbecue (though no one would ever accuse us of being a barbecue family, as evidenced by the bag of charcoal from 1970 used to light the grill). While the requisite hamburgers, hotdogs and watermelon will all be accounted for, as well as some jammin' tunes and (hopefully) a perfect summer breeze, I do not expect to feel any particular connection to the day.
Nor will it be just me. For my family and those around us, as I imagine is the case for many Americans, July 4th will simply be a day off from work to take advantage of huge sales at the stores and spend some quality family time -- and nothing more.
It won't be until the night, and the real fireworks display, that I expect to feel anything at all. I won't need to actually see any sparklers in the sky; I will just need to hear the thunderous claps of sound bursts, and immediately the sound of bombs exploding in Jerusalem will come to my ears.
I will be able to recall the exact spot I was in for each of the explosions I can remember, sometimes miles, sometimes mere blocks away; the momentary freeze as I realized what the sound was, wondering whether the explosion was on a bus or in the shuk or in the city center. I will think of all the bus rides, looking at each Arab as they boarded, eyeing their stomachs and chests for bulk, listening to the radio in silence as another bombing was announced, irrationally believing that if it wasn't the #18 bus (apparently the most often bombed), it was safe to ride.
We are just travelers here, sojourners on the way to there -- Eretz Yisrael.
As the fireworks continue, I will think of Gilad Shalit (Gilad ben Aviva), the Israeli soldier kidnapped this past week by Hamas-linked terrorists, and offer a prayer for his safety and recovery; I will think of my time in the Gush, where regular citizens were armed, and a hitched ride would often be offered by someone in a helmet and bullet-proof jacket. Tanks and checkpoints were regular sights; Arabs looked at you with contempt, and everywhere you went is somewhere a Jew had been murdered on their way to somewhere else.
It seems so far away, that life. And yet, it is so much more real to me than a barbecue in suburban Long Island. We are just travelers here, sojourners on the way to there. Eretz Yisrael , the Land of Israel, with all the hardships, all the pain, all the bloodshed, and life that sometimes felt like living in a militarized zone, is a place of connection, of history, of value -- personal value.
I don't need some Bob Marley tunes, a beach ball, salsa and 35 year old pieces of charcoal to commemorate what was fought for -- what is still being fought for -- over there. It is in the soil, in my bones. For all the fear that life brought, I want it back.