Commemoration of Loss and the Celebration of Life

By Lam Ho (Vietnam), Maria Bakhlina (Russia), Polina Skarga (Russia), Wamukelwe Dlamini (Eswatini), and Dr. Josh Yarden

Led by students, GHIS created and held a two-day event in April to remember the people who have been lost to conflict, learn more about each other’s cultures, and understand each other more deeply.  Commemorating loss is something that brings people toge

Memory is tricky business.

We often remember what we believe, and then believe what we remember. We then attach value to the story we tell, even—and perhaps especially—when there are several versions of one event, with different emphases and conflicting views. It is no coincidence that the symbol of justice is a scale, rather than a sword. Wars may be won and lost with weapons, but the struggle for justice is waged by weighing multiple truths and balancing power with prudence.

How do we celebrate national holidays in an international school? Narratives reflect choices and motivations about defining who “we” are. Wherever there is an “us” there will always be a “them.” So everyone’s national Memorial Day or celebration of independence is by nature a matter of some contention. When “we,’’ at GHIS, make “our” choices about the stories “we” tell, “our” task is to avoid alienating any of “us” so that we can continue to listen and learn, even—and especially—when “we” do not agree.

Conflicting narratives create challenging encounters that push us to question what we know, and leave us seeking more knowledge of that which we were previously unaware. We explore each other’s stories, to understand one another, and ourselves, because whenever we really look into each other’s eyes—without turning away—we see ourselves reflected there.

Commemoration of Loss Ceremony

Commemoration of loss is something that brings humans together. We share each other’s happiness, and we offer one another a shoulder to cry in times of grief, and in our unity we are complete. GHIS has students coming from different backgrounds and cultures, each with their unique history, and loss is an integral part of their identity. 

Students from Armenia, Ethiopia, Kosovo and Vietnam, alongside their Jewish and Palestinian-Arab Israeli friends, courageously shared their personal stories about difficult times, their family grief, and the national suffering during six events of loss: the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, the Serbian War, the Vietnam War, the Ethiopian-Eritrean War, and the Nakba. 

From these poignant talks, lighting of candles and moments of silence together, we learned that we are comparable in tragedy and suffering despite different geographical locations and time periods, but above all that in our unity we are resilient. We have much in common and we can change the world when we feel connected. 

One of life’s intricate twists is the way tears of sadness give way to tears of joy. Just as we must remember those who have come before us, especially those whose lives ended in tragedy, we cannot allow ourselves to lose sight of the beauty of the world. It is because we know how joyous we can be that we dedicate ourselves to making the world a safer and more just place for everyone who shares our planet. So, the day after our multi-national commemoration ceremony, we held a celebration of life.

Celebration of Life Ceremony

While people were still hugging and holding one another’s painful stories, we staged a mock wedding—observing the joyous rituals of a traditional Palestinian wedding reception, followed by international folk dancing. This cheerful atmosphere provided a breather for students who had recently completed their exams, and the delicious Arab cuisine was appreciated by all. International students and local Israelis got a feel for an Arab wedding.

Alikhan from Kazakhstan shared his thoughts: “Living in a shared society means everyday exposure to cultural exchange. The more we hold such events, the more diverse our community becomes. Acknowledging our differences allows us to gain more knowledge of other people’s rich history and cultural backgrounds. Being able to show our interest, love, and empathy plays a key role when building a shared society of leaders that come from completely different environments.”

Sharing a friend’s joy or bearing witness to their sadness never leaves us untouched or unchanged. Planning and participating, listening to and learning from each other generates memories that become the foundation for a lifetime of seeking justice in our shared societies.

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