Israel’s way of mourning as an indicator of national health

Funeral of Zidan Saif (photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
Funeral of Zidan Saif
(photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
Bereavement and grief are emotions most people experience several times during their lives.
Coping with death has many aspects and facets and it is generally important not to judge individuals on the manner of their grief. This is part of the grieving process and is generally a healthy and necessary stage toward “moving on” and returning to a semblance of normalcy. Nevertheless, the manner in which a nation grieves expresses much about its health and its people.
For such a relatively young nation, Israel has known its fair share of tragedy.
In fact, many of the people who helped build the state had bitter memories of the Nazi concentration camps, of pogroms or of being forced out of Arab countries. Over the years this nation has known many wars, battles, operations, intifadas and terrorist attacks, and a great many Israelis have at least one loved one or close friend who fell in battle or was brutally murdered.
Unlike many around the world, Israel’s Remembrance Day for its fallen is anything but a day of leisure, shopping or entertainment. The shops and restaurants remain closed for parts of the day, national ceremonies are well attended and the normal television schedules are interrupted for story after story of individual heroism or tragedy.
It is a day of grief but also a day of pride and gratitude, because so many Israelis understand the extent of the sacrifices made and know in very real terms that the flourishing country they see today would simply not exist without them.
Israelis on the whole have long lived under grave existential threats but have not let this stifle their innovation, creativity and lust for life. For many religious Israelis, the biblical dictum to “choose life” governs their struggle through more trying times. The reaction to the recent massacre at the synagogue in Jerusalem, where four rabbis and a heroic Druse policeman were killed, demonstrates once again the health and vitality of the Israeli people’s response to tragedy.
Although there were a tiny minority calling for revenge, many Israelis, when they had overcome their shock, found positive ways to deal with the tragedy.
There were numerous calls for prayer and the recitation of Psalms, a focus on the good deeds of the deceased rather than the brutal way they were killed, and thousands of people completely unconnected to the deceased attending the funerals, including the heartwarming sight of ultra-Orthodox, national religious and secular Jews who traveled to Yanuh-Jat in the Galilee to pay their last respects to the Druse policeman who prevented the loss of many more lives.
As with the families of the three kidnapped and murdered yeshiva boys in Gush Etzion at the start of the summer, the nation takes great strength from the quiet determination and sense of purpose of those whose loved ones went to entreat the heavens for peace and security and never returned.
Jewish tradition places a great premium on support systems, like the seven enforced days of shiva where the doors are open for all to come and share in the mourner’s grief.
Likewise, tragedies like the one that recently occurred in Jerusalem are more than personal events – they are national tragedies.
On the same day as the massacre in Jerusalem, thousands of teenagers sang, danced and formed a human chain along the road where Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah were kidnapped and murdered this summer, and where Dalia Lemkos was murdered more recently. Theirs was not a message of violence and revenge but a show of solidarity and strength to send the important message that they will not be swayed or bowed by violence. While their demonstration was in response to unspeakable brutality, their response was one of joy and hope.
We learn a lot from these teenagers, as we did from the “children of the candles” in Rabin Square after the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The people of Israel, even facing relentless threats, do not turn to anger, rage and revenge in response to loss. Our way is not to share candies and celebrate in the misfortune of others.
Anger in psychology is seen as a means of distraction, it is a social emotion, meaning that one has a target for their anger and a figure of blame. National anger can serve little purpose and usually merely leads to another cycle of grief.
Israel is not a nation of anger. It has absorbed the necessity to continue to live, build and thrive. As the Mexican proverb goes, “They wanted to bury us, but they forgot we are seeds.”
The writer is a clinical therapist at one of Israel’s national health insurance companies, and a certified sex therapist.