Israel mourns its dead by celebrating their lives

To mark the birth of the Jewish state, Israelis must first pay tribute to those who paid with their lives for it. Photo: Israel Defense Forces/Wikimedia

JERUSALEM , April 15, 2013 — Every year at this time, there is renewed discussion in Israel about the abrupt shift from mourning to celebration that takes place at the end of Remembrance Day for the country’s fallen soldiers and terror victims — on the eve of Independence Day.

As soon as the 24-hour period during which the country focuses on lost loved ones comes to a close, there is an almost immediate eruption of jubilation. Fireworks appear in the sky; people of all ages rush home from memorial services to get dressed up for parties; plastic hammers and cans of string spray appear; and smells of beer and barbecued meat begin to waft through the air.

The coupling of these seemingly clashing events and the emotions surrounding them was not accidental. The idea behind it was that in order to engage in festivities marking the birth of the Jewish nation-state, Israelis must first pay tribute and give thanks to all those citizens who tragically paid with their lives for it — and for us.

This assertion that the state of Israel is a gift that must not be taken for granted, particularly while wars against its establishment continue to be waged, is as pure as it is patriotic.

Still, some of the bereaved families consider the leap from tears to laughter insensitive, in bad taste or simply too hard to bear. Others say that the pain of their personal loss accompanies them all year round, and that it would not be minimized by having the calendar date for its public expression moved.

And then there are those who question the very value of fighting and dying for the country, and who are keen neither on the official lamentation nor on the subsequent flag-waving festivities. Their cynical, post-Zionist ponderings can be read in the pages of Haaretz, seen on Facebook and heard in certain trendy cafes.

According to the Talmud, “A man is not held responsible for what he says when in distress.” For this reason alone, we should be hard pressed to pass judgment on anyone whose grief has gotten the better of him, even an intellectual who devotes his energy to undermining Israel’s raison d’etre and legitimacy.

But the Israelis who believe, from the bottom of their broken hearts, that the blood spilled by their beloved boys and girls is precisely what has enabled the rest of us to write uncensored articles and discuss them over cappuccino are not so generous of spirit.

What they know is that there is another side to the seemingly puzzling proximity of sorrow and joy that characterizes Judaism in general and the Jewish state in particular. It is the ingredient that not only distinguishes Israel from its neighbors, but constitutes a key cause of the enmity it arouses among them.

This ingredient is the life force that pushes ordinary people to do extraordinary things: to go about mundane tasks while rockets are flying; to ride public transportation while suicide bombers are on the loose; to shove angrily ahead of someone standing in line at a blood bank; and to argue on behalf of the rights of individuals to have babies through any means available. Yes, pregnancy worship is so high in Israel that the ability to procreate is a center-stage issue in the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender community.

Children in Israel are so pampered, in fact, that parents and teachers have come to commiserate about the rampant lack of respect for elders. It’s the kids who run the show, and deep down we wouldn’t have it any other way.

This life force is so powerful that it overshadows the abundance of internal and external woes that are always present. It explains the extremely high score that Israel rates on international surveys of societal “happiness” — polled in a populace that excels at moaning and groaning.

And it is this life force that is just as palpable during memorial services as it is at Independence Day picnics. Indeed, weeping for the dead is conducted by celebrating the lives they led, no matter how short.

Every name of every individual soldier or civilian killed during or as a result of enemy actions is read aloud. The only broadcasts on television are about specific individuals no longer with us: their personalities, their hobbies, their aspirations and their passions. It bears pointing out here that most of these young men and women wrote songs or diary entries indicating the desire, hope and faith that one day peace would be the norm in the region, rather than war.

Reveling in life is a special and precious form of homage to the dead. In this context, the transition to jollity does not constitute a blatant contrast, but rather a blessed continuity.


Ruthie Blum is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’”























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Ruthie Blum

 Ruthie Blum is a pull-no-punches, conservative, Israeli-American columnist for Israel Hayom,  and the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’”

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