Wednesday, May 11, 2016

In thy blood, live

"And when I passed by thee, and saw thee wallowing in thy blood, I said unto thee: In thy blood, live; yea, I said unto thee: In thy blood, live;" (Ezekiel 16:6)

It's a strange time of year to be in Israel, plumbing the depths of pain and the heights of elation. A few friends asked me today how people here do it. How they can be mourning the loss of thousands of our finest men and women while preparing for tonight's celebration of independence. 

How you can go in to a shop today, grief stricken, emotions churning from the very public mourning all around, but the cashier will wish you "hag sameah", happy holidays, in advance of Independence Day. 

The contrast is jarring, even offensive, and yet it is so natural because the two aren't separate, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut are two sides of the same coin and you cannot have one without the other. 

You can't have the joy of Sukkot without the sombre reflection of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.

You can't celebrate our freedom on Pesah without recalling the terrible suffering of our slavery in Egypt. 

You don't have the celebratory joy of a wedding without breaking the glass and remembering the destruction of ancient Jerusalem and the Temple, and the terrible loss of Jewish life and freedom those events led to.

It's a very Jewish perspective of the balance of life and of acknowledging the cost of our freedom and thanking those who sacrificed before allowing ourselves to celebrate that freedom. There is no completely unbridled joy, but by the same token there is no mourning without hope. Even as the biblical prophets describe the horrors about to be inflicted on Israel they speak also of the comfort of the redemption that will come too. 

While it can feel wrenching for someone to be thinking of tomorrow's holiday even as you yourself are in the depths of today's mourning, that is part of the message. Our mourning isn't pointless, our losses were not without meaning.

Religious Jews add something important between Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut, a special prayer service which adds perspective to both. Before eating we say a blessing over our food, before celebrating our independence after centuries of harsh exile we thank God for this miracle of national rennaissance and pray for those who perished in its realisation. 

I often hear my American friends saying "freedom isn't free" and bemoaning the way that they feel their nation fails to acknowledge the price paid for their independence and comfort. 

In Israel it's built in to the culture, not just because we still have a draft, not just because our nation remains threatened by hostile neighbours 68 years after our battle for independence, but because of this link between our Memorial Day and Independence Day. Every schoolchild knows that you don't celebrate Israel's birthday without first honouring and thanking those who sacrifice to keep us safe.

It's all one package. 

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