August 18, 2006

A Flute, A Goblet And The Value Of Life

So the ‘מצב,’ or the so-called ‘situation’ here has changed for the moment. The skies are eerily quiet. Last Shabbat, choppers and transport planes filled the night sky, rumbling above. It was nerve-wracking but we grew accustomed to it. I would always be searching the sky, wondering whose son was up there and what fearful battles he would be soon facing in Lebanon – and if he would ever be home for next Friday night dinner.

And many boys will not be home this Shabbat. Or ever. Their seats at the table will remain empty. One son’s last words to his parents before he was killed in Lebanon, just moments before the ‘ceasefire,’ were, “I’ll be back with you for Shabbos.” They buried their 21-year-old son on Monday.

And what did this senseless loss of young life accomplish? How many parents are grieving – and how many more will? This so-called ceasefire will not bring peace. We may have silent skies for now, but for how much longer no one knows. Everyone here is depressed. I couldn't read the paper or watch the news for days. I didn't even want to talk to anyone about it. (And thanks, Amy, for giving me the incentive to continue sharing my thoughts on this blog as I was truly feeling sickened and hopeless.) Many people here, including Amir and I, are also very angry at the government.

I overheard two women talking at the grocery store. And although my Hebrew is still very rusty, I did understand their parting words, Ma La'asot? They did not say the friendly l’hitraot to eachother. They just shrugged, saying ‘What can one do?’ and walked away. We do not know what to do but continue with our lives.

And now the people who ran from their homes in the north are returning. At ulpan, we were given a performance by the Ma’alot children’s orchestra. Ma’alot is very close to the Lebanese border and over the past month, it was pummeled time and again. Many of these children were shipped out away from their families to Netanya and other cities. Some remained in bomb shelters for a month.

And yet here they were, sitting proudly with their violins and saxophones, drums and flutes, playing beautiful music for us. They were all wearing white Jewish federation T-shirts that said “I Love Israel” on the front. Is this because they could not wear their regular performing clothes? Did they have any clothes? Did they have homes? My heart broke thinking about how they would feel returning to their home town. Was their favorite park still there? Was their school still standing? Was there any grass to lie on or a place to ride their bikes? Was it safe? We heard the sounds of Mozart, of Beethoven and of Shubert.

Some of these children were as young as 10 and yet they were playing with the beauty and proficiency of any adult. As I listened to their music and saw their determination to be normal kids and go on with life, tears started to roll down my face. (And I confess that this is a normal occurrence for me in Israel; I cannot go a day in this country without being moved profoundly.)

In the Jerusalem Post I read a story about fifty couples from the north who were married in Tel Aviv last Monday. They were all married together because their wedding plans were cancelled due to the devastation in the north. One couple from Kiryat Shmona told the paper that they had already invited 600 guests to their wedding. They were heart broken when the war broke and their plans fell apart. The bride said, “Until last month I was a normal person. I didn’t know what a katyusha was.’’

Over 300 couples whose wedding plans were cancelled were interviewed for this event and 50 were chosen. Bridal gowns and NIS 10 million were donated, the first time such an event has happened in Jewish history. A string quartet greeted the thousands who gathered on the boardwalk at the port in Tel Aviv. And the sound of 50 glasses being smashed all at the same time brought incredible joy.

So although Hizbullah wanted to destroy Jewish homes, these couples were building them. One groom said, ‘It was a real answer to our enemies. All the broken glass will the biggest bomb that we send to Nasrallah. It is a bomb of happiness against hatred.’

Life does go on here. People look to the future and dream of peace. Israelis are simply used to living a life without it. I too will have to deal with knowing how to lead a normal life under a severe threat to this country’s survival.

But as those exquisite notes soared from the flutes, the violins and the piano, as as those goblets were smashed at the wedding, I realized that a love for beauty, for culture and for life is carefully imbued into every Israeli. This is more valuable than anything and it must be preserved at any cost.

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