Fireworks on my iPad

It was 3 pm on a Tuesday afternoon here in Washington Heights when I opened my iPad and put in my AirPods, but instead of getting on another Zoom call or scrolling through social media feeds, I tuned in to the 72nd Israel Independence-Day ceremony broadcasted online. It’s been two whole years since I’ve visited my homeland of Israel and the representation of its culture in my life has been quite faint recently, and I was surprised to feel myself getting emotional over it.

The broadcasted ceremony with no audience brought up feelings of strength, warmth, and unity, all of which I strongly associate with my homeland and make me feel proud of it. I’ve gotten used to being halfway across the world in situations like this and learned to celebrate my culture even without feeling the holiday excitement around me, but this year it seemed like everyone was celebrating Israel’s independence in a similarly distant way.

Usually Israel’s Independence-Day looks quite similar to the July 4th celebrations I’ve experienced here; everyone is out in the streets and the parks, and there’s a collective feeling of excitement when the fireworks begin. It was clear that this year’s celebration would take a different form as everyone was strictly quarantined during the holiday, but I guess I was surprised at how fitting this online celebration of independence actually felt.

Online social engagements are the new normal these days and we’ve all been spending so much of my new daily routine staying in touch with people and groups we belong to and are far away from. The need to stay connected, to keep the people we love in our lives and to feel a sense of community are all needs we are satisfying through the use of screens these days. Holding on to our homeland culture and identity is just another one of those things that make us feel grounded and connected, and a celebration of independence even more so.

Independence is actually happening right now all around us. We have so many possibilities to do whatever we want and are not forced to do anything we do not value. So many of us are out of our jobs and have been given a rare opportunity to reflect on the paths we’ve chosen and to ask ourselves whether we are happy with our current choices, and that strikes me as the epitome of independence.

Coronavirus has actually made distant social gatherings the new normal for now, and this is a great opportunity to look at how we connect to our cultures in our homeland, while we’re out here in America living out our best dreams.

Stay home if you can and keep celebrating your homeland cultures through online events. Hold on to everything that makes you different because that’s the part of you that makes you special.

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