More than 5,000 miles away from each other two different piercing sounds brought everything to a halt. One was anticipated, the other unimaginable. One led to complete silence, the other to bedlam. One marked a moment of remembrance and evoked the tears that do not mend, the other shattered the present and ripped through the lives of many. The first was the siren with which Israel commemorates the victims of war and terrorism on the evening of its Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron. The second were the twin explosions that rang out in Boston, killing at least three people and injuring more than 100 at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
The scenes from Boston are devastating, at once surreal and strangely familiar. The ground shakes, smoke billows and suddenly the street is filled with the injured and those who have moved quickly to provide support and attention. For those who were far from the point of impact and without direct connection to the victims, what lingers is also too familiar: the unanswered questions, the inchoate fear, the sense of powerlessness in the face of heartless malice. We also learn once again the profound strength of our society, the depth of courage and wells of kindness that exist to draw from as we deal with both the immediate aftermath and the work of facing what lies ahead.
In Israel, the day set aside to remember those who died in defense of the country or as victims of terrorism is felt deeply throughout the nation and leaves few untouched. When the siren goes off, the country comes to a halt and even drivers stop their cars and stand at solemn attention. Built in to this day as well, however, is its placement before the celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel's independence, which follows immediately with fireworks and the atmosphere of a national block party. The message is indelible: the State of Israel only exists because of the willingness of those who serve to defend her and the purpose of their sacrifice enshrined in the declaration of Israel's independence as a Jewish, democratic state is a cause for great joy.
The attack on the Boston Marathon is far removed from the ritualized script with which Israel's day of mourning leads to raucous celebration. Even though the celebration of July 4 is both literally and emotionally far away from the moment we are experiencing as Americans, this tragic and murderous assault on Patriots' Day, the anniversary of the battle of Lexington and Concord, reinforce the importance of not taking our freedom for granted. These very different "shots heard round the world" should both call us to attention and remind us of everything we have to celebrate and be thankful.
May those who are bereft be comforted, may those who sustained injuries find a healing of wholeness, and may all of us find the strength to be vigilant and the inspiration to celebrate our nation.