Not every day is as filled with such sharp contrasts as those of a recent 24 hours.
One item is is a video that came to my mailbox with the title, Israel: Seeing is Believing. It looks like something from the Ministry of Tourism, and would send me to the nearest airport if I was not already here. It highlights Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Masada, the Dead Sea, and the Red Sea, pretty girls and good looking men enjoying themselves, men and women advancing the frontiers of industry, agriculture, and science, as well as Jews, Muslims, and Christians at their holy sites.
In all its six minutes, however, there is not one picture of a soldier, or anything associated with national security.
I watched it the morning after we spent Friday afternoon at the Tel Aviv military cemetery. The occasion was a gathering of family and friends of an air force pilot, one of Varda''s cousins remembered by the candles she lights each year on Memorial Day. He was 21 years old in 1977, when he had the bad luck to be among troops who lost their lives in a training incident.
Fifty or so people gathered at the cemetery for a memorial ceremony and then a series of recollections of a kind that is no less typical of Israel than scenes in the film that promotes tourism. The man''s younger sister, now a grandmother, organized the occasion. A military cantor recited Psalms and chanted the IDF''s version of אל מלא רחמים (El Maleh Rachamim) that asks God''s mercy on the soul of the deceased. The hymn we have heard too many times mentions the souls of soldiers and other security personnel (men and women) who fell in the defense of Israel, or in the course of other duties.
There were three air force officers at the gathering, including two men whose wings and ranks of captain and major belied the impression of this old man that they looked like young boys.
On the walk to the grave Varda began speaking with a 70+ year old who turned out to be a distant relative, although neither recalled ever hearing of the other. Their conversation, mostly in Hebrew but with a bit of German and mention of mutual relatives, long departed, verified their common roots.
Among those speaking about the long dead pilot were an air force colleague, a high school friend, and a teacher who spoke about his visit to the cemetery and the graves of his students on every Memorial Day. His comments reminded me of students at the Jerusalem'' high school who put flowers on the graves of its graduates, including that of a teenager I remember as a frequent house guest.
Headlines the next morning told of an Israeli attack on Syria. The details are incomplete and have come in pieces that change from one newscast to the next. As far as we know to date, Israeli planes fired missiles from Lebanese airspace into Syria, against some of the bad stuff that might have been in transit from Assad''s arsenal to Hezbollah. As I am finishing this note, there is news of more extensive Israeli attacks, this time on targets in Damascus.
Official Israel has been mum about these reports, but commentators have been hinting about their inside information and describing what they see as the background and implications. With Syrian and Hezbollah forces neck deep in defending the Assad regime, they may not be inclined or able to mount anything serious against Israel. Iran and the United States may be getting the message that Israel is serious about defending its own interests. The immediate concern may be to prevent Iranian munitions moving through Syria to Hezbollah. There may also be a message to Iran about the capacity of the Israeli air force.
The pictures displayed at the memorial ceremony show a good looking young man with a full head of dark hair. The friends who came to remember him were gray or bald, some with the paunch of 60 year olds. A great deal else has changed in the course of 36 years, while the latest news says that much remains the same. .
Israel: Seeing is Believing is heartwarming, and may encourage visits and political support. However, if it had included something about military personnel, like those we encountered at the cemetery on Friday and are hearing about on the news, it would have brought its message closer to the realities we live with.