Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Love Letter To Israel

I saw the film "Waltz With Bashir" this past Friday. It is a film about the Lebanon War, and more specifically, about the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. Although some might see it as a social commentary about the futility of war, what it meant to me had more to do with the human journey along the path that brings us to war. The film helped me in that it stripped away the glory and the glamour from war; it showed me, in full color, that beyond honor and dishonor there is the boy, scared and frightened, shooting at anything that moves in an effort to keep himself alive. This is a boy who does not always know whether what he is doing is right, but follows his orders. This is a boy who waltzes with gunfire, living a reality that no one should have to live, in a world lit by the bright lights of falling flares, with the darkness that compels attack. And I imagined what it would be if I were that boy, scared and frightened, who deals with the different images that surround me by trying not to take them in, trying to push them away and walk through the world as though it were a film. I imagined the terror I would feel, pursued for no reason, running without cause, the things I might do and would later regret doing, and the terrible guilt I would feel. And so, peculiarly, it was this film, with its comic-book drawings and its intensely beautiful soundtrack that brought home to me the reality that war is neither glamorous nor filled with glory; it is simply what is, a dark reality that no one desires. That there are mistakes made in war, that not everything happens as it should. There are young, frightened people on both sides, and they cannot always act with the measured attention they should.

It was that more than anything that made this film valuable to me. It was the fact that it felt real, as though everything had been stripped away and I could suddenly see- beyond the propaganda and beyond the beauty- the terrible darkness, both external and internal, that is caused by the war that ravages our land. And what it does to a person, the nothingness or cruelty with which it fills him, so that he might survive. In a way more real than ever before, I felt this film, felt the fear and the anguish of the soldiers described therein.

After my cousin, myself and the friends that had accompanied him walked out of the theater, we were thinking about that war in relation to this one, the Chanukah War in Gaza. We imagined the kinds of things people would say, or for that matter, are already saying, about Israel and wondered what impact this film would have on their perception. But what mattered to me, the message that I took from this film, which demonstrates the deep regret and shame an Israeli soldier feels about the massacres at Sabra and Shatila during the Lebanon War- which were not even committed by Israelis, but rather by Christian Phalangalists- was that of the respect that Israel feels towards human life. I find it powerful and beautiful that an Israeli filmmaker creates a film demonstrating the guilt a soldier feels for the death of civilians, of women and children, that even suggests Israel should have ensured this not happen. I think that what this film so beautifully, powerfully, evocatively does is demonstrate the truth of the Gemara which describes the Jewish nation as one that possesses the quality of rachamim, mercy (Yevamos 79a.) So much mercy does the Jewish people have that the Jewish filmmaker, Ari Folman, felt overwhelmed by it and decided to make a film lamenting the death of innocents, for which he felt indirectly responsible.

I once wrote that I did not feel that I was a true Zionist, and I supported that by citing the Rav's definition of a person who was indeed true. But I think now this was a lie. Because love is an emotion that one feels for anything to which one is indisputably connected; it is not chosen consciously; it simply is. And I feel a strong love toward Israel and her soldiers, Israel and her stiff-necked people who live amidst the bombs and Qassams and the 15-second "Tzeva Adom" alert, running to their houses as rockets fall amidst them. Does it matter who they are? Does it matter if it's the soldier entering the Gaza Strip with the desire to disposess Hamas of the land it ought not to be allowed to govern, the Chareidi man learning in yeshiva, the bright seminary student who is on tiyul? It does not matter; they are all members of my people and I love them all. But more than that, I love my land, the land that God gave to me and to all the Jews, the land which He told us He would show to us, the land of our heart. We may deny it all we wish, but in the end, we are inextricably connected to the land, for when the land is in danger, or when her people are in danger, we are bound up with her, pray for her, desire God to have mercy upon her and her people.

How beloved are the Jews! These beautiful Jews who lament the killings of innocents and make films about that, the Israelis who do their utmost to avoid killing civilians or children, who are hated by a world who denies them the opportunity to defend themselves. Strong Israelis, and strong nation of Israel, to defend yourself when no one permits you the ability to do so! Surrounded by a hostile world, you are a single flame who attempts to shout into the madness, "Open your eyes! Look at what they are doing! And yet you desire us not to attack?" And yet your cries go unheeded; no one wishes to heed you. It is easier for everyone to tell you to use words and diplomacy, to forget the rockets they fire upon you, to sit back and wait to die, like sheep to the slaughter. But you are not sheep to the slaughter, o' nation who has been forced to military might. You are strong, you are prepared, you are God's children, and you answer to no one but Him. God Himself has given you permission to kill those who wish to kill you, and that is what you are doing. Who could dare to raise their voice against you?

My Israel, golden and green and beloved, land of milk and honey, of impossible colors that can be seen only in the eye of the imagination! I did not know how much I loved you until I felt you threatened; I did not know how much I cared for you until I saw what others wish you to do. They would like you to lie down before them, so that they can destroy you and your people. I have never been one to believe that to be an anti-Zionist makes one an anti-Semite and I will still not believe it; there are those who hold by the shita of the Satmar Rav who are not Zionists in the traditional sense, and yet they do not hate the Jews. But it is certain that one who is not a Jew and who is also not a Zionist quite often hates the Jew, the one they have described as an occupier, the son of a monkey or an ape. This is me you are describing, me as well! We are the same; we are one people, and if you hate them, and determine that they are killers, monkeys, apes and the like, you say the same of me. In this we are of one body, one people, one nation, one breath. When you kill us in Israel, you are killing us in America, in Britain, in Russia, in France, in Austria, in every place around the world that holds a Jew.

How can I do anything when I read about my beloved people entering danger, a place which is hostile to their physical bodies, in that there are bombs and bullets flying everywhere, and a world that is hostile to their very right to defend themselves? What can I say to these soldiers who are so weary, who simply want the end, want not to be frightened or hated anymore, want simply to return to their lives and progress in a world not overrun by war? And who am I to speak, who has the benefit of college and a country that is mostly at peace, or at least, where I am not directly affected by the wars being waged? I have no right to speak; I, who have lost no one, who have suffered nothing, who does not live with the daily terror of rocket attacks, with the fear of being cast out of my home, whose life progresses with many joys and much happiness and who does not run to join you in your existence amidst the gold and green lush land...

Does the average Israeli hate the American who lives so peacefully at home? I would not blame him if he did, yet each person feels differently. Some may despise the peaceful nature of our existence, believing us not to be true brethren in every facet of the world. Yet others may be glad that we propogate a nation that does not know the terror and fear that encompasses the one that is currently under attack in its true land. There are many ways one could react to me, an American who feels a great and searing love for a land I did not know I loved. I knew that Israel was mine, in that in truth it is my birthplace and my destiny, but I did not know what I felt for it until now.

Can you imagine a world in which Hamas succeeded in its goal? A world in which Hamas blew Israel off the map, destroying the country completely? We would continue on, but what a blow, what a blow that would be! As Jews, we would continue; God has sworn we will never be completely wiped out. But a people without a land once more, and what is more, without the land that is our destiny, that is as connected to us as our very blood...I cannot imagine such a reality. If it were to come, we would take it stoically; we would go on and we would continue, for it is our duty to continue no matter what darkness claims us. But my very blood protests against the idea that this could ever happen, because the land is ours and it resonates in our very blood. The land calls to us, a siren song that we can never truly escape...we can deny it for a time, but it is never truly gone. We push it off, we feel that we have escaped it, but in the end, if we allow ourselves to be touched, there is no denying that in this land of ancient history, the land that God created for us and that has been our creation, the land that we built up and that has been built for us, is the only place in the world where we will feel wholly complete.

It is not only Israel that I love, but her people, every one of them, the taxi-drivers with their politics and staunch opinions, the women begging for coins at the wall, the American tourists, the ancient and revered scholars, the Chareidim who openly invite everyone for meals when they themselves do not have enough to eat, the culture and even its modernization and Americanization. I may not admire, nor may I strive to be like, the brash, loud, rude, and overly in-your-face stereotype, but I respect it for what it is, a part of the land that I love, and that I want to see defended, remaining holy and strong.

And so, as we get together and pray for the soldiers, for those who are fighting in the country that lives in our hearts, let us thank God for the gift He has given us, the almighty gift of a land which is truly beloved and burns like a flame within us. We must yearn for her all our life, if we do not go- and there are those of us who cannot; our mission is elsewhere, and it cannot be abandoned. Nonetheless is it our land, however, land of history and mystery, of the imagination and the spirit, of the blood and tears that symbolize our people. Israel is our destiny; her people are our brothers, and the bond that draws us together is always stronger than anything which could attempt to sunder us. As our soldiers go to war, and face the hostility of a world that does not understand, alongside the artillery of evil men who desire to murder the very spirit of the Jewish people, we pray together, the love that stirs us fierce within our hearts, and we recall God's original words to Abraham, "וַאֲבָרְכָה, מְבָרְכֶיךָ, וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ, אָאֹר ."

And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curses thee, will I curse; so promised God to the first Jew to discover the land of Israel, and so it shall be again. May God be with our people in the land that is ours, may He strengthen and guide them in their war, whether it be a war waged through our prayers, our charity, our learning, our arms, our minds, or whatever other weapons we shall put before Him. May God hear our prayers and protect our brethren; may Hamas, the Haman of today, fail in their evil plan. In every generation, they arise to kill God, may You pour out your wrath upon them and may you utterly destroy them; may you kill all who desire to kill us, and destroy all who desire to destroy us. Bless your people and protect them; kill those who desire our death. And protect Your country, Your beloved country, for the sake of Your people and the love we bear toward her, and more, for the sake of Your name, which is blessed and sanctified. May God bless us and redeem us soon, and may we all be restored to Israel in peace. Amen.


nmf #7 said...

Chana, beautiful post- and AMEN.
May we hear besuros tovos soon!

Uri said...

A lovely post! May Israel come out victorious and may God protect all Jews! Amen.

Anonymous said...

this is a test

AK said...

A powerful post! All Jews need to undertake a mitzva and say tehilim daily,do kind deeds to help our brethren in Israel.

YU student said...

Great post Chana!

"May the L-rd hear thee in the day of trouble, may the Name of the G-d of Jacob strengthen thee out of Zion... Some trust in chariots, and some in horses - but we will call out in the Name of G-d. They fall, but we are arisen and stand upright. Save L-rd, O King, Who hears on the day that we call."

All YU students should involve themselves with mitzvot.

Stubborn and Strong said...

Amen but I have couple close friends in Israel who is soldiers and fighting the war. It is terrifyed for me, but again i am american but I could do all my power to help them. I am going Israel after final which i hope to boost economy, hopefully to donate blood at there. I am bringing all American foods and objects for israeli family for pleasure. I am bringing many sample toothpastes for soilders (the woman from "Package from Home" which is send all kinds of things that soldiers need for personal use because they don't have parents to take care of them, told me i should bring samples of toothpastes bc they requested it, my father is dentist ;-) Anyway, I am trying to my best to help them, If anybody feeling guilty by living America, you should donate to Hazatla or MDA or Package from Home that really helps soldiers and people in Gaza)

Aaron said...

An inspiring post!

laughingwolf said...

happy new year, m'dear sil... long time not chat....

Myles said...

Are you sure that was a love letter to Israel and not to me. Because my dear I do believe I am in love... beautifully written I wish I could approach you eloquence, wit and verve. May we all live to see a time when our beloved Israel will see no more violence. Amen.