Song of the soldier

The memorial ceremonies held in each city are built around music.

remembrance day soldiers 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
remembrance day soldiers 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
'Every human being is a song, a serenade to God. The essence of who we are - like a song - comes from deep inside our soul and emerges as its own unique expression. It has always amazed me how closely Yom Hazikaron, Remembrance Day, is interwoven with music. The radio plays somber and stirring pieces, instead of the usual frenetic fare, to help set the national mood. The memorial ceremonies held in each city are built around music, usually evocative ballads that speak of the mortality of life, of love lost and dreams unfulfilled. And after the ceremonies have concluded, the public is invited to stay for "songs of the fighters," as each division of the IDF - Golani, Givati, Nahal, the navy and air force - has its own particular soundtrack. The soldiers themselves, I've noticed, have a special attraction to music. They sing as they march in formation, and they adopt favorite theme songs and jingles for their unit. When they have a free moment, and especially when they travel to or from their base, they invariably are "plugged in" to some kind of listening device, tuning into songs while they tune out the world. If, for the public at large, music represents a great escape from the hassles and hurriedness of an all-too imposing existence, then for the man or woman in uniform it is an even more vital tool to maintain their sanity. Ari loved music, and would often use it to transport himself to a different universe, to a calmer, lighter place where there were no bullets, no commanding officers, no early-morning stakeouts with little food and even less sleep. I could literally see him transform, in just a few seconds, from gritty combat soldier in green to innocent kid in jeans as he listened to his favorite songs. The battles he fought - mostly against terrorists, who could appear at any moment out of any dark corner - were a million miles away when he put on those earphones. Did the songs make any sense, or say anything meaningful? Who knows, or cares? That wasn't why he liked them so much. They were more a mantra of mindlessness, a portable sensory-deprivation chamber that took him out of the field of battle and into temporary serenity. And now, whenever one of those songs comes on the radio, we are frozen into immobility, and we connect to our beloved boy upon that mystical, musical plane. AFTER ARI fell in battle, we felt an obligation to try to reach out to other bereaved families, and let them "spread the pain" to us, if that could somehow help. We would try to share what little wisdom we had gained from our own trauma, and tell them that life - albeit in a radically different form - would still go on. But I never expected to sing at a house of mourning. I walked into the shiva house of an Ethiopian family whose son had been killed in the Second Lebanon War. As soon as the parents saw me, they rose from the floor and grabbed my arms, pulling me toward them. "You have a kippa," they said excitedly, "you are religious!" "Yes," I answered. "Then you must know the 'Shabbat song!' Please, please, sing it for us!" I had no clue as to what they meant, but they were insistent. "The 'Shabbat song,' the 'Shabbat song,' you have to know it; you have to sing it." So I started to sing the songs we sing on Shabbat. I tried "Shalom Aleichem," the paean to the angels, but they shook their head, indicating that wasn't the song they wanted to hear. I tried "L'cha Dodi," and "Adon Olam," even the Kiddush, and still no response. But when I began to sing "Yah Ribon Olam" - "God, You are the master of the universe, the king of kings," their faces lit up and they literally jumped for joy. "That's it, that's it!" they screamed. And then they explained. "You see, we know very little about the Torah, or about the Jewish holidays. But when our son was in his unit, he very often stayed on his base for Shabbat, and he learned the songs from the other religious soldiers there. And when he would come home for Shabbat, he would sing to us this song, which was his favorite, and we would try our best to sing with him. But now" - and here they paused for a long time, as the tears flowed freely - "he will not come home any more for Shabbat. And so, who will teach us that song that he loved so much?" And so we sat there and together sang, over and over, that most surreal of songs, trying to somehow connect to another place, another dimension where parents and children sing their songs together without a care in the world. Maybe, just maybe, on the other side, a soldier was singing along with us. For every soul is a song, a serenade to God. The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana; his son Staff-Sgt. Ari Weiss was killed in a raid on Hamas headquarters in Nablus in September 2002. In his memory, the Ohel Ari synagogue and learning center has been built in Ra'anana.