(Some) counting is a sign of love

This week we’re starting the Book of Numbers. As is obvious from its (English) name, we will hear a lot of numbers. Each tribe will be counted. And counted again. Why? Who cares if the tribe of Judah had 74,600 people and the tribe of Benjamin 35,400? We know that the final count, without the Levites, was 603,550 (men, of army age), so let’s say “about 600,000” and call it a day! Why the details? Why the precision?

This is also the end of the Count of the Omer. For almost 49 days, we’ve counted each and every day. Is counting some kind of a sport we enjoy? Rashi explains: מתוך חיבתם לפניו מונה אותם – out of his love to them, he counts them. Counting is a sign of love. We don’t count things we don’t care about. No one says, ‘I have about so and so many kids’. If one is a teacher, you know how many are in your class. When traveling, one would never say (I hope!), ‘I might have left some kids behind, I don’t know how many’. Likewise, things we care about, we schedule with precision. We know when and where. If you really want to meet, you don’t say, ‘I’ll see you in CA sometime’, but rather, ‘can you do lunch next Tuesday’? Whether days or people, we count each one, because each one – counts. This continues with the precise date our portion opens with:

א וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד: בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בַּשָּׁנָה הַשֵּׁנִית, לְצֵאתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם–לֵאמֹר. 1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying:

But then, why not just count the whole people together? Why that division into tribes? We’re out of Egypt, “free people”! Aren’t we done with it?
The Torah does the same “trick” we’ve seen before: yes, we’re one, but no, that does not mean we’re all the same. Oneness and sameness are – not one and the same. Our oneness is made of distinction. So we see in chapter 2:2:

ב אִישׁ עַל-דִּגְלוֹ בְאֹתֹת לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, יַחֲנוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: מִנֶּגֶד, סָבִיב לְאֹהֶל-מוֹעֵד יַחֲנוּ. 2 ‘The children of Israel shall pitch by their fathers’ houses; every man with his own standard, according to the ensigns; a good way off shall they pitch round about the tent of meeting.

Each tribe with their own flag, symbol, colors; and each with their own location in the camp. And yet, all together “parked” around one unifying “center piece” – the mishkan. The verb used here, yachanu, camped (or as I translated, “parked”) can connect us to another place we saw the same root: When Israel stood at Sinai, that time the verb was in the singular: vayichan sham Israel (Exodus 19:2), while here – in the plural. Which was is it? Yes again. Our uniqueness has meaning as long as we have our togetherness; our togetherness has meaning as long as we have our uniqueness. This is still trוe today. The tension between the individual and the community (partnership, family, etc) will go with us throughout life, and balancing it – a work of art.

This opening of the Book of Numbers is always read on the Shabbat before Shavuot. First, we separate between the curses /consequences of last week, and the Giving of the Torah. We are also in the desert, and the desert is an open, magical place, where bread comes from the heavens, and water – from the ground, in complete contradiction with how we’ll live in the Land and anything we’ll see later on. This is the mindset we enter as we near the Giving of the Law: that we matter as a whole, and as individuals; and that something amazing and important is about to happen; something without which we’ll never be who we are; something that will forever change human history forever.

אֵין לִי קִיּוּם בְּלִי הַבְּרָקִים וְהַקּוֹלוֹת שֶׁשָּׁמַעְתִּי בְּסִינַי
I have no existence without the lightning and thunder I’ve heard at Sinai
Zelda (Israeli poet) 1914-1984

Shabbat Shalom & Chag Shavu’ot Same’ach!

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Still crazy after all these years…

We’re six years old and the school year is almost over. 1st grade: a red backpack on my back, a lunch pack hanging from my neck. A tight pin in my hair. T-shirt. Maybe shorts, or a skirt. “Comfortable” shoes. It’s a pretty straight route from home to school. My mom walks with me up the stairs, waits for me to cross the street and waves good bye. I’m a big kid. I know the way by myself. I know how to handle myself. And I definitely know what to do that morning in early June when the siren is sound. We just practiced it for Yom Ha’shoa. And Yom Hazikaron. When there’s a siren, wherever we are, we need to stand in attention, bow our heads slightly, and remember our heroes with somber faces. We practiced. We won’t let anyone down. Other kids stand still too. But wait! This siren is different!! People hurry us towards us, waving their hands excitedly, motioning us to run to the school and find shelter. There is no shelter. We sit in the hallways, away from the windows that might shatter.
At home, we have a partially empty “machsan”, sort of a storage “cave” under the house, but not underground, with one dusty orangy light bulb dangling from the ceiling. All the neighbors assemble, huddling together. Every so often, someone walks out to look at the sky in an effort to guess what’s going on. One neighbor brings a “transistor”. He wiggles the antenna as we try to listen to news – rusty, crackly, broken up voices say things we don’t understand and no one explains. My mom is pacing in the semi-darkness worried: her parents live in a moshav right near what was then the Jordanian border. We did visit not long before, to help dig trenches in the orchard, my mom begging her father to come to Haifa, which he, of course, refused.
My other grandma who lives next door, is not much different. I notice she does not come to the shelter. And I panic. During one of the calms between the sirens, my mom sends me to see what’s with her. She sits near her green, felt-like board; her cards stretched in front of her, trying to figure out which one to put on top. “Omi, omi”, I call out (yes, in German), “you have to come to the miklat (shelter)!” She doesn’t budge. I inched forward to check in there is room for the 2 red hearts. “Omi”? I try again. “I survived World War I, and World War II’, she says, “Came to Israel and lived through the War of Independence. And the Sinai Operation. I am not going anywhere. If He wants to take me now, He can come right here”.
He didn’t. Not then.
Soon it was all over. Names we heard of only through Torah stories became places we could go visit. At the end of the summer, our parents took us for a day trip to see Jerusalem and the famous sites: buildings with bullet holes in Mt. Scopus; the views to the Dead Sea; the houses and stones (so many stones!) of Mamila; the Kotel – a crowded space near a tall stonewall with people everywhere, people in tears, everything feels a bit delirious. We’re told to put a note, and we do. We still do, still ask for mostly the same things. So what. We’re standing next to a home we had 3000 years ago. If things take a little longer then we expect, that does not mean they won’t happen.

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משונה נחלה זו מכל נחלות שבעולם

Lunch time at Yeshivat Maharat. A very pluralistic group of women and men of all ages and Jewish denominations walks into our beit midrash (study). I walk a bit closer and say a very Israeli, “shalom”! They are surprised: “Shalom??” “You look like you’re from the “Eretz Hakodesh” (Holy Land)”, I say in Hebrew, with a big smile. “We are”, they admit, “How did you know?”

It’s hard to explain, though a variation of this happens often. Some connection runs deep, and it travels through the Land. In the daily daf yomi (daily Talmud page) this week we learn: משונה נחלה זו מכל נחלות שבעולם – This Inheritance – i.e. this Land – is unlike any other in the world. How can anyone say it, especially some 1800 years ago? Have they been all over the world?
The torah reading of this week takes it further, with the commandment of shmita, the “sabbatical”. The Land, we’re told, has its own Shabbat. Just like us.
In my endeavor to look at (at least) the first three Books of the Torah as a spiral, rather than just a linear story, I can’t help but notice that each book has a central, somewhat magical, godly, divine place of its own: in Genesis, it’s the Garden of Eden; in Exodus – it’s the mishkan (tabernacle) and in Leviticus –the Land of Israel. If they do spiral, it means each expands on the one meaning that the previous presented. If Genesis is about individuals, Exodus – about Peoplehood and Leviticus – about the practical implications of the earlier ideals in the form of mitzvot, we can say that the Garden – was a heaven for just two people; the mishkan – a place for the whole nation to connect directly with G-d who lives amongst us; and the Land — all that – a heaven and a place to connect with G-d – as well as a place where we can practice all we’ve been taught thus far, and where we can grow.
The group who walked in this morning came through the “Gvanim Program”. I had the honor and pleasure to work with this program during my tenure in San Francisco, and yes I told them that, which began a short game of “where are you from”, “which high school did you go to”, “what did you do in the army”, in hopes to find connections. But what I should have said was, “I knew you as soon as you walked in, because you look like my brothers”.

* * * * * * *

The Shabbat offers us a “double portion” – two Torah readings, closing the Book of Vayikra, Leviticus, before we head to Numbers and Shavuot. The last one includes a list of blessings and fascinating consequences, too scary to read out loud. But I love the opening: אם בחוקותי תלכו…. If you walk in My commandments… (Leviticus 26:3) I like the “if”; I like the “walk”. Angels, says one of the commentators, stand; humans – walk. The 3rd and middle Book of the Torah closes with us on the road. The last words of this Book will be “at Mount Sinai”: we’ve left but have not yet made it to our destination. That is the heart of the Torah. We’re not about arrival, but we’re not staying behind either. We’re all about the journey.

And how do we understand that endless “journeying” coupled with “The” one an only Land? Yes. That’s what happens when you walk with G-d. You encounter contradictions. Or not.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Say What?? Parashat “Emor”

In a Torah portion that gives us a list of all the Biblical holidays, and shares more details regarding the holiness of the priestly service, the last story – in Leviticus 24 – seems completely out of place. A man, son of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian man “goes out” among the Children of Israel, where he and another “Israelite man” have a fight. Is this the only fight to ever take place in the desert? or maybe it happened sometime, when people had nothing much to do?? But this one gets the headlines, because the ”son of the Israelite woman” curses the Name of G-d, and Moses and the people don’t know what to do with him.

י וַיֵּצֵא, בֶּן-אִשָּׁה יִשְׂרְאֵלִית, וְהוּא בֶּן-אִישׁ מִצְרִי, בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיִּנָּצוּ, בַּמַּחֲנֶה, בֶּן הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִית, וְאִישׁ הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִי. 10 And the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel; and the son of the Israelite woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp.
יא וַיִּקֹּב בֶּן-הָאִשָּׁה הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִית אֶת-הַשֵּׁם, וַיְקַלֵּל, וַיָּבִיאוּ אֹתוֹ, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וְשֵׁם אִמּוֹ שְׁלֹמִית בַּת-דִּבְרִי, לְמַטֵּה-דָן. 11 And the son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name, and cursed; and they brought him unto Moses. And his mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.
יב וַיַּנִּיחֻהוּ, בַּמִּשְׁמָר, לִפְרֹשׁ לָהֶם, עַל-פִּי יְהוָה 12 And they put him in ward, that it might be declared unto them at the mouth of the LORD. {P}
יג וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. 13 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
יד הוֹצֵא אֶת-הַמְקַלֵּל, אֶל-מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה, וְסָמְכוּ כָל-הַשֹּׁמְעִים אֶת-יְדֵיהֶם, עַל-רֹאשׁוֹ; וְרָגְמוּ אֹתוֹ, כָּל-הָעֵדָה. 14 ‘Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him.
טו וְאֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, תְּדַבֵּר לֵאמֹר: אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי-יְקַלֵּל אֱלֹהָיו, וְנָשָׂא חֶטְאוֹ. 15 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying: Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin.
טז וְנֹקֵב שֵׁם-יְהוָה מוֹת יוּמָת, רָגוֹם יִרְגְּמוּ-בוֹ כָּל-הָעֵדָה: כַּגֵּר, כָּאֶזְרָח–בְּנָקְבוֹ-שֵׁם, יוּמָת… 16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him; as well the stranger, as the home-born, when he blasphemeth the Name, shall be put to death….

A “stand-off” between a “son of an Israelite woman” and “an Israelite man”: One is presumably young; one – mature. One – half member of the community; the other- full. We don’t know the names of those fighting, though we know the mother’s name and the tribe. The story is tragic, for sure, but for a book that is skimpy in details, why tell us about this?

We are a little after the middle of Book of Leviticus, after the mishkan has been prepared and the priests – assigned their jobs. We now have a holy place, holy functions, as well as holy times, as spelled out in the list of holy days in chapter 23. Indeed, everything about Leviticus is about holiness.
If so, the mekalel– the “son” cursing here – might be doing so as a reaction to an extra intensive doze of holiness. For him there is no inspiration. Rather, it is as if he says, ‘enough already, I don’t want it’.
We have seen other reactions to holiness: Nadav & Avihu, Aaron’s son (in chapter 10) got “too close”, their fire caught in G-d’s fire causing their death. We will also see the “mekoshesh”, the man gathering wood on Shabbat, coming up in the Book of Numbers 15:32-33.
If Aaron’s son’s represent the overly ecstatic, the mekoshesh represents someone who is apathetic, who doesn’t know and doesn’t care. One has too much fire, the other – not at all.
In contrast with them, the “curser” in this section represents someone who cares deeply but is irritated with the community and its practices. It’s not that he does not believe in G-d, but rather, he is angry with G-d, the world and rules He created. It’s not that he doesn’t have fire; it’s just all over the place, misplaced. The passage about this man begins with the verb – vayetze, and he went out. Where did he “go out” to? We’re in the desert! He can’t go very far, can he? But he “goes out” – out of himself, of the confined structure of holiness around him. He feels disconnected and lone, facing a fellow Israelite, and especially, facing G-d.
The mekalel did something wrong and deserves to be punished but, he needs to be punished by the “whole community”. Why not just a few judges? Because his behavior, is- partially- everybody’s responsibility. We were told right away that his father was Egyptian. That alone meant that he had no Israelite father to show him ”the ropes” of being Jewish. This “son” did not start out cursing. He started out as a person among many. What happened along the way? Who helped care for him? The community has to take a serious look at itself and do its “cheshbon nefesh”- self introspection. If we were the community, we’d have to ask, where were we when someone grew up among us, alone and isolated? Where were we when a human being, another person created in G-d’s image, was suffering so much that he turned against his fellow and against G-d?
In the last couple of weeks I’ve been watching the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why”. It’s considered “controversial” and “problematic”, and yet, I would still highly recommend it. It’s a show, not a therapy session; it’s designed to make money for Netflix, not to fix anyone’s issues, I get all that. And yet, it raises a similar question regarding the balance between the individual’s responsibility and that of the community around. The short is, we can’t save everybody all the time, but we should at least try. We might be surprised to learn that at times, all it means is noticing someone and greeting them with Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom.

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On the Miracle of Pesach Sheni, Second Chances & My Father’s Yahrzeit

Pesach Sheni – literally 2nd Passover – addresses people who missed the 1st Pesach. When it was time to bring the Pascal offering, they were unavailable, either because they were “ritually impure through contact with a dead body, or away on a distant journey” (Numbers 9:1-12). This situation has never come up before, so it is not obvious for Moses what to do. In response to his query, G-d tells him that these people can prepare the same offering a month later, on the next full moon, the 14th of Iyar, this year coming up this Wednesday, May 10.

For many, the day has come to symbolize how “it’s never too late”. If you google it, you’ll find some lovely commentaries: “The eternal significance of the Second Passover’, says the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950), ‘is that it’s never too late to rectify a past failing… there is always a Second Passover in which s/he can make good on what s/he has missed out. The Second Passover thus represents the power to go back in time and redefine the past”…
What’s not to love about this teaching. Except that for me, Pesach Sheni happens to be my father’s yahrzeit (the anniversary of his death). And there is nothing like a yahrzeit to remind us that try as we might, there is not “always” a second chance, nor a way to rectify and redefine the past. In fact, the whole teaching seems to highlight exactly the opposite. If there was “always” a second chance, there would not have been a need to ask Moses about it; and there would not have been a need for him to check with G-d Almighty before replying.
What’s more, there is no 2nd any other holiday. If you missed Yom Kippur, that’s just too bad. You can do your own t’shuva (repentance) any day, but that majestic fast day, will only come back next fall. Similarly, if you were incognito during Sukkot or Hanukkah, well, there is going to be another one, but most likely not next month.
So the fact is, the people asking, and Moses himself, knew very well, as I am painfully reminded each year, that second chances are super rare and hard to come by; that while we pray and hope, beg and bargain for them, rather than an “always”, they are usually not readily available and extremely extraordinary.
There is a custom to eat matzah on Pesach Sheni, just like on Passover and some see it as a (very minor) holiday, but for me, it’s a day to light a candle and rummage through old boxes.
I fish out the Berlin newspaper clip from 1928 where my father is featured as a newly discovered young Mozart; The photos of him hiking with his father and brothers – in shorts and a hiking stick; sitting dutifully by his mom, elegant and sharp.

I look at his school portrait from Berlin of the early 1930’s. At 13, he’s properly dressed, hair combed sideways, front row of a non-Jewish school. What did he know about how life is about to change? Just another school day or a forever good bye? Did his parents tell him what’s coming, or did they just do the “German” thing, packing quietly before the journey began?
There are photos from his wedding to my mom, and from their honeymoon – a photographer on the Acropolis catches them climbing up, smiling, looking at each other lovingly; and then with little me on his lap, both of us playing the old piano, a love for music that seeps through the generations on to his grandchildren. I see him with us children at the beautiful Haifa beach: a big colorful beach-ball, the waves playing behind us on the horizon.
And the photos in my head, the moments that no camera ever caught: heading to the synagogue on Friday afternoon, my mom handing him his cane which he reluctantly accepts, while I obliviously skip around in a pretty flowery dress. Hand in hand we walk up the stony steps, deep in conversation, as the sun slowly goes down. Did he already know how numbered were his days?
I find diplomas from his learning and try to piece it together: will I ever find out if he actually went to London for his matriculation, law and accounting exams in the early 1940’s, or did the British Mandate allow for exams in pre-Israel Palestine? There is his photo in the long dark robe: young, proud, successful, a big promise, a big smile, the whole world awaiting; a world full of 1st and 2nd chances.
And there is an envelope my mom saved from the last weeks of his life, no longer able to speak as his body gives in to the horrors of ALS; thin rice paper, almost etched through, with his now shaky, block-lettered handwriting, reverting back to his childhood German: Get the family. Now. Please don’t go.
My brother and I are both older now than he’ll ever be but forever he remains our father and we, his children, with the lessons he’s left behind. It’s Pesach Sheni, and yet, second chances are practically a miracle.

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A Vignette, a “Full-Moon” & Trees

Vignettes:
I think I have finally moved to NY… My proof? a phone call with some service (bank? phone? who knows-) who asked for my address: “What city? Can you spell it? State please? Can you spell that?” My patience totally ran out. What’s with these people who can’t understand where is Brunxneyork???

“Full-Moon” – פולמון – is a new Israeli TV show – just the right mix of drama and shtuyot (nosense)in manageable segments of 25 minutes each. The background is a beautiful Thailand beach and the storyline involves a colorful cast of Israelis, each with his or her story, and why they ended up there. For anyone who traveled these region (and even for those who didn’t), there are moments that it could pass as a documentary. And – if you make it to the end of the first season’s 50 episodes (yes, I admit, I did), maybe you’ll discover that it’s not just about lost Israelis, Russian mafia, crazy conspiracies or gorgeous views, but also about friendships, the kind, for some reason, that can be found in Israel. Somehow it seems to fit this week. The show can be found on youtube; no subtitles.

In continuation with last week and our love story with the Land, this week’s Torah portion, loaded with intriguing laws, offers one. So we are commanded (Leviticus 19:23):

וְכִי-תָבֹאוּ אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, וּנְטַעְתֶּם כָּל-עֵץ מַאֲכָל… 23 And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food…

This verse – partially – might be familiar from Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet LeYisrael) publications. In this week’s Parashat Kedoshim, it is part of a number of agricultural mitzvot. We are commanded against different kinds of mixing: not to tether mismatched animals together; not to wear wool and linen, and not to sow a field with an inappropriate mixture of seeds (kil’ayim).
As explained here elsewhere, Rabbi Hirsch connects the idea of kil’ayim with the Hebrew word ke-le – prison, since the wrong kind of mixing confines and blocks growth.
In this particular case, we might further derive from this that it is better to not plant at all, so we will not come to mix anything. That’s when the Torah says: “When you come to the Land, you WILL plant”.
In the spirit of spiraling Torah learning, the midrash in Vayikra Rabba 25:3 picks up on the word “etz”, tree, here, and connects us to the first tree and the first planting act in the Torah, back in Genesis:

רַבִּי יְהוּדָה בֶּן רַבִּי סִימוֹן פָּתַח (דברים יג, ה) אַחֲרֵי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם תֵּלֵכוּ. וְכִי אֶפְשָׁר לְבָשָׂר וָדָם לַהֲלֹךְ אַחַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא? …וְאַתָּה אוֹמֵר וּבוֹ תִדְבָּקוּן! אֶלָּא מִתְּחִלַּת בְּרִיָּתוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם לֹא נִתְעַסֵּק הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶלָּא בְּמַטָּע תְּחִלָּה, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב (בראשית ב, ח): “וַיִּטַּע ה’ אֱלֹהִים גַּן בְּעֵדֶן”, אַף אַתֶּם כְּשֶׁנִכְנָסִין לָאָרֶץ לֹא תִתְעַסְּקוּ אֶלָּא בְּמַטָּע תְּחִלָּה, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב: כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל הָאָרֶץ וּנְטַעְתֶּם.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Shimon began, “‘After the Lord your God shall you walk’ (Deuteronomy 12:5). But is it possible for a human of flesh and blood to walk after the Holy One, blessed be He?… And you say, ‘And (not only you should walk after Him but also) to Him shall you cling?’ But rather, the Holy One, blessed be He, from the very beginning of the creation of the world, occupied Himself with planting first. Hence it is written (Genesis 2:8), ‘And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden.’ You also, when you enter into the land, only occupy yourselves with plantation first. Hence it is written, ‘When you shall come to the land.”

We are told that Rav Kook was invited to participate in a festive tree planting. Everything was prepared in advance, to show respect to the great chief rabbi: the sapling was in plastic wrap, there was a new shovel, the hole already dug in the ground. But Rav Kook instead, set the shovel aside and started digging by hand, kissing each clump of dirt. For our sages of old, likewise, planting trees in the Land of Israel was not only a nice, environmental thing to do, but directly connected to being in G-d’s image and following in His footsteps.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Yom Hazikaron: Remembering – במותם ציוו לנו את החיים

As kids we were taught early on to give up our seat on public bus for an older person, but, as the story goes, when my brother, about four or five years old at the time, was told to get up, he responded: “I don’t want to get up for the old lady (mind you, she was probably about my age now –), but I will”, he continued proudly, “for the soldier over there”.
Growing up in Israel, soldiers were like gods, with their sharp uniforms, special shoes and barrette, unit emblems and all. Each one of them better looking than the other; they are all tall, charming, handsome, bright. As a child, you learn to look up to them with awe; you know they do “what they must” and at any moment, might be called to give the “ultimate sacrifice”, just so you can have a state and a safe home. You’re taught the verse “bemotam tzivu lanu et hachayim” – ‘dying, they commanded life to us’, and soon, though you don’t quite understand it, you hear it – and maybe even have the honor to recite it – especially on Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day, when you stand respectfully, dressed in a white collared shirts and dark bottoms, to read mournful, heartbreaking stories, under the watchful eye of your teacher, her eyes hidden behind thick sunglasses.
It sucks that they have to die, but you’re ten or twelve, and they are giants of 18, 19 and 20, and you think, so it goes. Then you become 20, 21 and 22, and the name in the dark frame is your friend, your classmate, the guy you dance with, joke with, thought you’d have forever with to chat again at a street corner of your neighborhood; and you meet his parents, who turned ancient over night, at the cemetery gate and shiv’a calls; and you and your friends hug each other and cry together, and you think you’re all adults and so very grown-up, and this is “the price we all must pay”, and so it goes and so it must go-on.
And then one day, all of a sudden, you are your teacher; the one who came to school on Yom Hazikaron in her dark sunglasses so no one will see her red eyes; the one who asked the students to read the heart wrenching poetry so no one will hear her broken voice. You look back at your friend’s faded photos and it just hits you; and you realize that those mighty soldiers are just kids; and you’re tired of tragedies and pain, and poignant stories and touching poetry; and you know this is not how it goes; this it not how it has to go; and your heart doubly breaks, for the loss itself and for its continuation; and for the first time you stop and wonder, if maybe, after all, when they commanded us life, didn’t they also ask us to at least make a better effort in finding another way.

** Reporsting from 2016.

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