Wednesday, May 08, 2019

The Little Prince

A moving cover of a classic Israeli song from the 1970s, "Hanasikh Hakatan" (The Little Prince). Beyond the haunting melody and beautiful poetry this is a song which memorialises so many.

Israeli poet and songwriter Yonatan Gefen wrote about a childlike soldier he served with during his military service who was killed during a training accident.

Israeli musician Shem Tov Levi put the poem to music and included it in his 1975 album. It struck a chord with many Israelis in the wake of the heavy losses in the Yom Kippur War and has become part of the Israeli national "liturgy" of songs of mourning played and sung on Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day.

My mother heard it during a visit to Israel around the time the album came out and connected deeply with the poignant imagery Gefen borrow from French author Antoine St Exupery's "Le Petit Prince", one of my mother's favourite books and one she read to me often. More than just being a writer who's work she enjoyed, St Exupery was one of my mother's heroes, a Frenchman who fought the Nazis in World War Two and also tried to save the lives of Jews, as such he was also a Hasid Umot Haolam.

A few weeks ago I visited the small southern Israeli town of Yeruham, literally smack dab in the middle of the desert. The version of the song in the clip below is performed by young musicians from the Yeruham Conservatory, many of whom were also involved in a recent project with Professor Francesco Lotoro to record and perform songs and pieces of music written by Jews during the Holocaust, and by doing so preserve the memory of the many Jewish composers, poets, singers and musicians who perished.

I cannot hear this song today without thinking of all these stories, the many people lost to us and very much still with us, the complex modern history of the Jewish people this song represents to me.

Warts and all

Katonti, but there is something I would add to Rabbi Sacks' moving piece. The broken tablets the Moses dropped upon discovering that in his absence the Children of Israel had built the Golden Calf.

The broken tablets of stone symbolise failure, a vast national mistake, a crisis of faith, disappointment - any number of negative aspects of the incident. And yet these too were carried in the sacred Ark by the Levites, symbols of national folly and lack of judgement. Because as a nation we don't only carry with us the glowing successes, the badges of honour, but also our mistakes, our failures.

As a nation our national book, the Bible, records the good and the bad, the times our nation did the right thing and the times we completely messed up. It's a very honest way of viewing one's own history and a very important lesson in humility and in the profoundness of our believe in teshuv, the ability to repent and change and learn from our mistakes.

On Yom Hazikaron we remember all our fallen, the ones who died saving the day with outstanding acts of selflessness and the ones who tragically lost their lives due to friendly fire, a commander's error of judgement or fa aulty piece of equipment. They all risked their lives in the defense of our homeland and people, they knew that wearing the uniform could put them in harm's way for any number of reasons and we owe them not just a debt of gratitude, but as a nation, we owe it to them to learn their stories and in doing so hopefully learn also from mistakes that cost lives. Yehi Zikhram Barukh.

At the end of the book of Genesis, Joseph makes one deeply poignant request: Though I die in exile, God will bring you back to the land, and when He does so, "veha'alitem et atzmotai mizeh", “Carry my bones” with you.
Moses smashed the first set of tablets given to him by God at Mount Sinai, but the Israelites carried them in the Ark, together with the second set, the new tablets and the fragments of the old.
And so it has been throughout #Jewish history; we carry with us all the fragments of our people’s past, the broken lives, the anguished deaths. For we refuse to let their deaths be in vain. Our past lives on in us as we continue the Jewish journey to the future, to #hope, and to #life.
Just a few days ago, on #YomHaShoah, we remembered the victims of the Holocaust. On #YomHaZikaron, beginning tonight, we will remember the victims of the Israel Defence Forces and those killed by terrorist attacks in Israel. What our enemies killed, we keep alive in the only way we can: in our minds, our memories and in our land, the State of #Israel.
There are cultures that forget the past and there are those that are held captive by the past. We do neither. We carry the past with us for as long as the #Jewish people exist, as Moses carried the bones of Joseph, and as the Levites carried the fragments of the shattered tablets of stone.
Those fragments of #memory, of those no longer with us, help make us who we are. We live for what they died for, by walking tall as #Jews, showing we are not afraid, refusing to be intimidated by the antisemitism that has returned, or, as we have seen in recent days, by the sustained assault on #Israel.
On #YomHaZikaron, as we remember those who have fallen or been killed in defence of the State of #Israel, we say to the souls of those lost: We will never forget you. We will never cease to mourn you. We will never let you down.

Monday, May 06, 2019

The blessing of simple things

It was a relief this evening to linger outdoors in the early evening enjoying the refreshing cooler air after a day of heat, dust and dry winds.

More than the change in weather though I was glad to be scanning the pre-crepuscular skies for screaming throngs of soaring swallows and swifts hunting bugs on the wing instead of gazing at the slowly darkening southern sky to catch flashes of rockets and interceptions, faint booms carried on the wind from areas of Israel only yesterday under bombardment from Gaza.

What a difference a day makes.

This evening the drama comes from a begging fledgling jay loudly demanding a meal from its parent, a flock of black cap warblers chattering loudly as they feast on my neighbours' huge mulberry tree groaning with fruit and a nervous laughing dove startled by a myna as it comes in to land on the same branch.

My garden is already feeling the effects of the first couple of spring heatwaves. The pineapple sage and basil need extra water, the citrus trees could use some TLC and the cyclamen which have flowered all winter long have definitely seen better days.

The pomegranate though is glorious, covered in dramatic flame red buds and blossoms, heralding the impending dry season in style. The mango and olive are decked out in profuse but delicate blooms while the almond is adorned with huge pouches of green velvet. Purple-blue sage  and rosemary alongside white roses offer a festive patriotic note in honour of Israel's Independence Day later this week.

So much promise of goodness to come over the summer but I am left wondering whether we will be able to enjoy it or whether in another few days, weeks, a month, we will be back to rockets and sirens, ninety stomach churning seconds to dash for the shelter and the shadow of war once more hanging over this blessed, challenging land.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Sowing a little kindness

Shabbat morning I was home with the kids when someone banged loudly on the door. I asked who was there and the answer came "A neighbour".

I opened the door to find an elderly bearded man I vaguely recognised from my street, but I couldn't tell you his name. "I heard that someone in the family is unwell, they made an announcement in shul this morning, I want to help. I live a few doors down. What can I do?" He asked in heavily Russian accented Hebrew. "My kitchen or yours?"

I was at a loss for words He scrunched up his brow, thinking.

"Borscht? Borscht could be good. I will bring some tomorrow."

My husband emerged from changing a nappy and tried to thank him, but he sort of pooh poohed him, made some comment about him being from Ukraine and knowing how to make a good borscht, so that is what he would do.

And with that he wished us Shabbat Shalom, refuah sheleimah and took his leave. This morning there was again a rapping at the door.

Our Ukrainian neighbour was on our doorstep again, this time holding a tray and on it a piping hot pan of potato-vegetable kugel.

"I thought about borscht but then I wondered if maybe children don't like that so much, they don't know what it is, they don't have the same associations. But kigel, I know everyone loves kigel"

As he went to stash it in my fridge he again turned to practical matters. "So what else? Do you have any chicken or meat in the freezer? Some fresh or frozen veg? Onions, carrots, peppers? Make sure the meat or poultry is defrosted overnight in your fridge, I'll come in the morning after davening and make sure your family has something good for lunch. I used to work as a cook, this is what I know how to do, how I know to help."

As I heard his footfalls leaving the building I realised that I still didn't know his name.