In Plain Language: Israel’s siren song

“Of the honey and the sting, the bitter and the sweet...” – Naomi Shemer

Jewish wedding_521 (photo credit: Rinat Gilboa)
Jewish wedding_521
(photo credit: Rinat Gilboa)
While 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 triumphant victory.
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 population.
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 wedding ceremony).
“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 passed.
...The sound of the grooms emanating from their bridal canopies, the sound of the young people at their jubilant meals” (seventh blessing).
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.
Even our (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 call-up began.
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 cloud.
But it is also the countless acts of kindness by the average citizen which define the unique character of our holy nation.
Our bride 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 destiny.
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.;