Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Wrong Time to Dance

Yom revi'i, 10 Iyar 5772.

Last week marked the usual emotional roller coaster that is Israel every year at this time.  Yom HaShoah, remembering the heroes and martyrs of the Holocaust, followed by Yom HaZikaron, honoring our fallen heroes (and martyrs to Arab terrorism), followed by Yom Ha'Atzma'ut, the miracle that was and still is the birth of the State of Israel, after and within all of the chaos.  Someone said to me yesterday that the most moving videos on Israeli television happen on Yom HaZikaron, due to the incredible power of the events and people we remember.  What follows is a very sensitive struggle with the emotional train wreck of memory and current events by a dear friend of mine. There are only questions...
Kochava Even-Haim, z"l

Yehuda was rummaging through a box of toys in the corner of the room when he suddenly paused and called out, “Harmonica! Kochava’s harmonica!”

Kochava – Yehuda’s nursery school teacher, who had taught him, and adored him, for two years in a row. She was murdered by terrorists within hours of greeting us at a back to school night at the beginning of what was to be Yehuda’s third year in her warm embrace, an embrace that evaporated in a spray of bullets. Though she has been gone a year and a half, Yehuda, now almost eight years old, still refers to her often.

“Yehuda, did Kochava play the harmonica?” But Yehuda did not answer me; he was already running over to the window, harmonica in hand, and he began pleading to the clouds, “Hashem! Give me back my Kochava! I want her! I want to play with her! Why did she die? Send her back to me from the sky!”

The pure and raw prayer of a mentally disabled child. The pure and raw emotion of a soul unable to comprehend the hatred that leads to murder, but masterfully gifted in absorbing and offering love.
Yehuda and his mother, Jennie, at Yehuda's siddur party
A few weeks later, I finished a work meeting in Jerusalem, and was relieved that due to careful planning in advance, I would be free for the next thirty minutes. I had set aside that time before and after the Yom Hazikaron siren for  undistracted private moments of reflection. Yom Hazikaron has become more and more personally meaningful in the five years since we made aliya. Fallen soldiers and terror victims are no longer a list of anonymous names, but are now my neighbor’s brother, my colleague’s uncle, my son’s nursery school teacher.  And with a draft letter for my oldest son already sitting in the house, Yom Hazikaron is also a sobering reminder that I too, am about to be drafted, into that elite unit of Israeli mothers who are proud by day and sleepless by night.

I spent the fifteen minutes before the siren in front of the computer, watching interviews with parents, and siblings, and girlfriends of soldiers who died in military training accidents.  The interviews were broadcast as the familiar notes of Yom Hazikaron’s mournful songs played in the background, a holiday soundtrack so uniquely Israeli.

11 a.m.: as the siren blared, softly at first, and then strengthening in its haunting blast, my tears were already falling. I moved closer to the window, ten flights up from the street below, to watch the cars pull over to the side of the road, and the pedestrians stop midstep, as all joined in a united moment of silence and prayer. In those opening seconds of the siren, my thoughts were focused on Kochava, and on the bereft parents interviewed online, and on my son’s draft notice. I thought about those parents’ acceptance of their tragedy, their talk about finding meaning in moving forward, and in living life as a memorial to the goodness of their sons. My eyes moved from the still cars below to the apartment building under construction across the street. Standing at my tenth floor perch, I was able to see directly into the open window of a room in which three Arab workers hovered over a large piece of metal. I heard myself gasp as the siren hit its loudest pitch, for at that moment, the workers dropped their tools, and in the room high above the street below, began to dance together. And laugh. And dance some more. And as the tears of the Israelis on the street below flowed, these workers danced. I desperately wanted to believe that their dancing was in no way connected to the wailing siren, but the timing of their smiling nods at each other as the siren blasted was painful to observe from my hidden vantage point, which at that moment felt so very far away from those workers, who were in fact just a few feet away from me.  My vision was blurred by my own hot tears as my mind jumped to the parents of the fallen soldiers, and then jumped again to Yehuda crying out with his harmonica for Kochava, and then jumped again, as our thoughts do without our control, to the image of a triumphant Palestinian gleefully waving his bloodied hands out the window to the rowdy crowds on the street below, hands bloodied as he and his friends savagely murdered two Israeli soldiers who had taken a wrong turn in Ramallah over ten years ago. 

And now, I watched through the window as these workers danced to the sound of the siren.  My stomach tightened as I imagined them dancing on Kochava’s blood, dancing on the blood of those soldiers in Ramallah, dancing on my tears, and on the tears of those in the still streets below.

And as I watched them, my sobs of anger turned to sobs of despair: How can I talk peace with people who dance on our blood?

Later that evening, the town’s outdoor basketball court quickly grew crowded as my neighbors filled the stone seats around the court’s perimeter. The ceremony marking the transition from the aching pain of Yom Hazikaron to the exuberant gratitude of Yom Haatzmaut, also a uniquely Israeli tradition, was about to begin. The poignant transition is marked with prayer, song, and the daglanut, a creatively choreographed dance of the town’s teenagers, full-size Israeli flags in hand. As the sun set and the music of this year’s daglanut played, I watched these teenagers joyfully dancing, proudly waving their flags. I looked out at the audience of my inspiring Israeli neighbors, who just moments before were mourning the loss of their sons, and cousins, and army buddies, and  the words of the ballad chosen for  this year’s daglanut blared over the loudspeakers: “Sing for us a song, and send us light….”

I thought about the dancing I witnessed earlier that day, and about the dancing I was watching now. And I thought about my question of despair: How can I talk peace with people who dance on our blood?

The daglanut ended, children and parents cheered, the familiar sounds of Hatikvah and Ani Maamin, and then the sky burst forth in color, as fireworks erupted overhead. Once again the loudspeakers blared the words of another song into the dark skies exploding with light:  “ Shimu Echai….Listen My Brothers, I am still alive…”

And as I looked at Yehuda’s eyes staring up wondrously at the fireworks, I felt comforted by the answer to my question: Our only hope lies in our emunah, our belief -- and the hopeful emunah of this wondrous country seems to be as strong as ever.

Jennie Goldstein
April 30, 2012





May we and Yehuda share, if not immediate answers, at least continued hopefulness, and finally the Redemption, when all questions will be answered, and little boys -- and their mothers -- can live without fear.  When it will always be the right time to dance...
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