The tents and terror attacks have been making me think a lot about life and death lately. In particular, it has made me reflect on how life and death are different in Israel than in my native country, the United States.


Strangely, it made me remember an episode of the American sitcom How I Met Your Mother. The five late twenty something friends are sitting in their neighborhood bar. They are excitedly planning for Super Bowl Sunday, which is the next day. Then, a waiter comes to their table to tell them some sad news:


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Waitress: Mark died.
Marshall: Oh God.
Waitress: The funeral''s tomorrow at 6:30 and I know it''d mean a lot to Mark if you came. You guys were his favorite customers.
Waitress begins to cry and leaves the table.
Ted: Who is Mark?
Lily: I guess we should go. Right?
Marshall: Wait, tomorrow night at 6:00 is the super bowl.
Ted: The truth is we didn''t know Bart.
Lily: Mark.
Ted: Mark…We could just say we forgot.
Waiter is heard yelling at another customer.
Waiter: Get out of here! I never want to see your face in this bar again!
Waiter walks to the friends'' table.
Waiter: This soulless bastard just told me that he can''t go to Mark''s funeral because he wants to watch the Super Bowl. Can you believe that?
Everyone: Phshh…
Waiter: You guys are coming, right?
Everyone: Oh yeah…
The friends look at each other disappointedly.
*If you want to watch this part of the episode for yourself, it''s from 00:44 until 2:00.
 
So how does this sitcom have anything to do with Israeli current events? First, Americans have the luxury of assuming things will always take place at a certain time, such as the Super Bowl. This won''t ever be interrupted, let alone for a funeral.


On the other hand, Israel is used to stopping everything, including big national events, because of security concerns. For example, one of Israel''s biggest wars, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, happened during Yom Kippur, the most important holiday of the year for the Jewish people.


Similarly, after eight Israelis were killed on Thursday, August 18th in a terrorist attack in Eilat, a city in Southern Israel, the leaders of the tent protests decided to cancel Saturday, August 20th''s protests. Instead, they held a candlelight vigil in honor of the terror victims. It was the first Saturday since mid-July that they did not hold a demonstration.


Second, and more profoundly, funerals have a more important place in Israeli society than they do in the US. To give a personal example, I was having dinner at a family friends'' house when they found out about a death in the family. I won''t go into the details to preserve anonymity, but of course it hit the family very hard.


Similar to the goofy twenty somethings in How I Met Your Mother, I didn''t think I was supposed to go to the funeral. These were family friends that I didn''t know well and I didn''t even know the family member who died. In the US, I only go to funerals of people I know, and usually, only people with whom I had a personal connection: someone in the family, a friend. I was thinking I would mail them a card to show my sympathy.


When I told my Israeli boyfriend I was going to just send them a card, he looked shocked. Who knew he was dating such a heartless woman? He warned me they might be upset if I didn''t show up to the funeral. So, I went.


I was most struck by the crowd. In the States, there are usually only a few dozen people at a funeral. Most people wear black. At this funeral, hundreds came. People wore bright colors. Instead of a few sad individuals, this was a vibrant community supporting the grieving family. Israelis strongly stick together during periods of loss because everyone supports each other.


By Unlisted Sightings at Creative Commons. 
 
Then, it made even more sense that the tent protests have lost some steam since the August 18th terror attack. Death has an intense impact on the Israeli psyche. Because of the communal nature of Israel, you also feel like any attack could have happened to you. Therefore, you should mourn the victims and support one another before getting back to business as usual.


Similarly, my boyfriend explained that "this is a lesson about Israeli culture. The situation is very deep. When the rockets start firing, everything else stops."


This statement made me want to ask a friend if people are less inclined to go to weddings and funerals shortly after a terror attack. She said it obviously depends on the severity of the attack and how close the event is located to where the attack took place. However, she said that people would be more inclined to go to funerals than weddings. They would feel more of an obligation to go to a funeral than a wedding in order to pay respect to the dead.   


Although I understand this, it also makes me sad. As much as the dead should be respected, life is for the living.


Photo of Noam Shalit by Πρωθυπουργός της Ελλάδας at Creative Commons
Photo of Noam Shalit (left) by Πρωθυπουργός της Ελλάδας at Creative Commons. 

Touchingly, Gilad Shalit''s father, Noam Shalit, feels similarly. At the last Saturday protest in Tel Aviv, Noam Shalit talked about how his fight to bring back his son, an IDF soldier who has been captured by Hamas since 2006, relates to the tent protests'' fight for social justice: "Social justice isn’t only the right to have a home in Israel, but also the basic right to live. We are fighting for the life of our son Gilad."


I hope, despite our security situation, that people fight for a better life next Saturday at the million man march. Let us support each other in this struggle, too. 

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