In Plain Language: Israel’s siren song
“Of the honey and the sting, the bitter and the sweet...” – Naomi Shemer
No situation in Judaism should rip a family apart. Photo: Rinat Gilboa
we Jews – with a few very notable exceptions – are not generally known for our
athletic prowess, we do excel in at least one semi-sport: juggling. We are
constantly being called upon to juggle our emotions, to switch gears at a
moment’s notice – from joy to sadness, exhilaration to anxiety, cheers to fears.
To prove the point and better prepare us, our rabbis added the Yizkor memorial
prayer to the most festive of our holidays; ordained that we partake of bitter
herbs and salt water in the midst of our grand, celebratory Seder meal; and
included in our New Year’s shofar blasts both the sound of wailing and that of
Our family experienced the highs and lows of Israel’s
emotional life this week as we married off our eldest daughter while at the same
time sharing with the nation the trauma of yet another chapter in the ongoing
war with our incorrigible enemies. At times we didn’t know whether to laugh or
to cry, as we delighted in the pre-huppa excitement and anticipation that
precedes any wedding while concurrently grieving over the destruction and loss
of Jewish lives resulting from the indiscriminate Hamas bombing of our civilian
The wedding was scheduled to be held in Ashkelon, a frequent
“ground zero” target subject to numerous “Color Red” alerts. We held a tearful
discussion with the wedding hall’s owners, who were directed by the IDF to
refrain from hosting any gathering of more than 100 persons. They lamented how,
on the first night of the war, they were forced to cancel a wedding just two
hours before it was due to start.
After sending their staff home with
whatever food they could carry, the owners had no choice but to throw away
another 500 portions of that evening’s meal. We commiserated with them and began
to understand the enormous price – in addition to blood – that so many people
must pay in tough times like these.
We were fortunate to find a new
venue, further north and closer to home, and were greatly impressed by the
hall’s owner who, told us that although he was inundated with requests from
people who had had to cancel their events elsewhere, he would not take one agora
more than he normally charged. “One does not play the game of supply and demand
when people are hurting,” he told us.
As the big day approached and the
traditional wedding songs played over and over in my head, I could not help but
be struck by the irony of this co-mingling of the ecstatic and the erratic, the
almost cosmic interplay between the common experience of the couple about to be
married and the country as a whole.
“Hurry, hurry, O God, and let there
be heard in the streets of Judea and the confines of Jerusalem the sounds of joy
and happiness, the voice of the groom and the bride” (seventh blessing of the
“Hurry, hurry,” said the mother to her young children,
as the siren began to sound. “Let us quickly get to the bomb shelter, to our
protected room, to an inner stairwell, under a bridge or against a wall!” On the
way to buy clothing for the wedding week, our bride and her sisters had to stop
their car on the Ayalon Freeway. All traffic on this busiest of highways came to
a standstill as cars emptied out and the passengers – with no shelter of any
type within running distance – could only lie on the ground until the alarm
“...The sound of the grooms emanating from their bridal canopies,
the sound of the young people at their jubilant meals” (seventh
I could not help but think of all those happy-go-lucky,
energetic young people who abruptly left their homes, their parties and their
friendly surroundings to answer the orders they had received to report to
reserve duty. In particular, I thought back to the bridegrooms Benji Hillman, of
blessed memory, and Aharon Karov, who literally bolted from their weddings to
answer the call of service to our nation.
“And who is like thee, O
Israel, a singular nation on the face of the Earth!” (Shabbat Minha prayer). Has
there ever been a people with the courage and commitment, the resourcefulness
and rock-solid resolve to withstand blow after blow and not surrender? “Rejoice,
and bring gladness to the land that once was barren, which now celebrates the
ingathering of her exiles” (fourth blessing).
If anything serves to unite
our multifaceted and diverse population, it is adversity. Particularly in times
of danger, we forget all the petty things that constantly tear at our national
fabric and embrace one another, literally and figuratively.
(Jewish) politicians, as partisan and acerbic as they can be, headed for common
ground when we entered authentic emergency mode.
Apprehensive as we are
about their safety, it is a heart-warming and deeply spiritual experience to see
soldiers of every stripe shedding their individual costumes and donning the IDF
green. One soldier I know, who was released from the army just two weeks ago and
was already on his post-service trip abroad, immediately returned when the
We come from so many different places – geographically,
religiously and socially – but we march in perfect formation when the need
arises. The rainbow of all these Jews devoted to the State of Israel – white and
black, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, observant and not – is enough to dispel any dark
But it is also the countless acts of kindness by the average
citizen which define the unique character of our holy nation.
received a call from another young woman – she had come to Israel from Europe to
get married the night before our daughter – who had heard that our wedding venue
had been moved. “No doubt you had to cancel all your floral arrangements,” she
said, “so I am sending you all of our flowers for you to use at your wedding!”
“Blessed are you, O God, who created us and prepared for us a building that will
last eternally” (third wedding blessing).
What our enemies fail to grasp
is that we have built for ourselves, with God’s help and blessing, an eternal
home here in Israel. We will neither abandon it nor desert it; we will not let
anyone take it away from us. We will protect it with our bodies and our souls,
for we are wedded to one another forever, in love and devotion, as surely as
husband is wedded to wife. The Arab nations that surround us come and go – most
are artificial, post-World War I creations that were forged by foreigners,
possessing no ancient history or culture – but Israel is authentic, indigenous
and eternal. No amount of bombs or bombast will deter us from our
May the new young couple create their “faithful house among the
people of Israel” even as we continually strengthen our national home on the
sacred soil of the Land of Israel.
The writer is director of the Jewish
Outreach Center of Ra’anana and a very proud father.