Monday, April 15, 2013

Tao and the Jewish State

There is a certain stately progression on the Day of Remembrance for the Fallen (Yom HaZikaron). 

Around 4 pm.  TV programming starts dying off; almost every channel wraps up programming for the next 24 hours or so. The only ones left are the Israel broadcast channels and they've moved on to somber things. Radio is still working, but every station is broadcasting low-key, minor-chord music.

7pm. Showers all around, we all change into white or black shirts. Joking dies down gradually.

7:30. Start walking up the street to Kiryat Ono's "Gan HaGiborim" (Heroes' Garden). A rather beautiful square park that is almost never used during the year. There are no games for the kids there, no stores, no coffee shops. Just a large, well-tended garden and a spartan wall with names on it. This is where we honor the fallen from our little town. It's not far, maybe ten minutes away, walking slowly.

Along the way we meet people that we haven't seen in a while, the normal impulse to greet them effusively is muted. What's the etiquette here? The day of mourning has not yet started, but it's very clear that smiles and hugs are no longer appropriate.

We make it to the garden and find a perch on the low wall that surrounds it. My nine-year old son and a friend of his are with us and we want them to be able to see. We wait.

The square is filling up. It's close to 8 o'clock and I can see three men walking fast up the avenue, trying their best to make it to the square before the ceremony starts. I can tell that they're seriously weighing whether to break into a trot and from their faces I get the distinct impression that they think it would be undignified and inappropriate to the time and place. 

At any rate. They make it to the square just in time.

8 o'clock. The lights in the Heroes' Garden are dimmed and the air-raid sirens start. Not up and down, but constant and relentless. And in that great and terrible noise I hear the scream of every mother that has just been told her son has died in battle. I can hear sirens going off in the neighboring towns like some tortured chorus singing at the gates of Hades. Can the human heart resonate to a siren like a glass of wine to a high note? For sixty seconds at 8 o'clock last night, like every year, this becomes a pressing existential question.

And then the siren is over and the ceremony begins. The flag is lowered to half-staff and the town's mayor gets up to speak. We leave. He's ok, the mayor, but after him comes the cheap pol that is Kiryat Ono's rabbi, and him I cannot stomach. So we leave.

Next morning, 10:55 am. I am standing on the overpass above Highway 4, waiting for the siren. I want to be with others when it goes off, I want to see the cars stopped on the highway. Cars are already stopping, people getting out slowly. The sirens go off, time stops for two minutes. A late model Mercedes on the highway is speeding past the  cars that are stopped on the shoulder. Through the windshield I can clearly see the driver. Suddenly, the dime drops on  the driver: Today is that day, and now is that time. He slams on the brakes, fishtails to the side and gets out of his car. Even from the overpass I can tell that he is deeply embarrassed.

Yom HaZikaron, 11am

And for most of the country that's it. That's our day of mourning. Sure, the TVis still in quiet mode but life is slowly getting back to normal. There are things to do and not a lot of time to do them, for tomorrow is Independence Day and we must get ready for the celebrations.

Officially, Yom HaZikaron ends tonight, a second before Yom HaAtzmaut commences. I am told that the founders of the state did this on purpose, so that it would be clear to all of us for all time what was the price we paid for our freedom. I get it, I really do. It's a Tao thing, no black without white, no joy without sorrow, and from the sorrow cometh joy. 

The problem is that it ain't working. We are not Taoists here. We can't absorb the interplay of Yin and Yang in its entirety, so instead we cope. We leave the Yin behind slowly, trying to honor the dead but conscious that we'll be having the party of the year tomorrow.

Can we honor the fallen as is their due, and then be joyous tomorrow?

The truth is, we can't. So I see my fellow citizens moving away from Yom HaZikaron while still in the middle of it. It's inevitable I guess. The sentiment from the price we have paid is too raw, too exposed. We need to put distance between Yin and Yang. We cannot accommodate the darkness and the light in the same space so we force a gap between them. 

I wish the powers that be would move Yom HaZikaron up by a day and give us 24 hours between one and the other. I want us all to be able to mourn the fallen and honor their memory for a full day. And then I would ask for an extra day to shift from sorrow to joy. Is that too much to ask?


  1. Wow. I'm trying to think of something--anything--we have here in the U.S. that in any way compares to what you have described. And I'm coming up blank.

    The stopping of the cars...sadly, I just can't see that happening here, ever, in such uniformity for any reason at all, short of an all-out zombie apocalypse. Not sure what that says about us.

    I guess I'm jealous of your traditions--of the way it unites your people in common observance. I thank you for the chance to glimpse it through your blog here, though I'm not sure I'm totally capable of identifying with the whole experience in any meaningful way.

    I do get what you mean about human nature and the Tao, and why we want to create a "gap" of sorts to ease transition from state of Yin to the mode of Yang. Even the tides are gradual...not slow, but with a definite PACE, ebb and flow...all at once, immediate reversal, would have the destructive force and effect of a tsunami.

    I do have to wonder, though, if creating such a gap...spacing out the two events of sorrowful remembrance and joyful celebration, while perhaps less taxing emotionally, might also have the effect of separating the two ideas entirely. To return to the Tao illustration, that might in essence be like removing the small dots from each side of the Yin-Yang, erasing the dynamic, complimentary and interdependent nature of Yin and Yang as a working system creating a more meaningful whole, and instead result in viewing each half as opposing, independent, and irreconcilable with the other. And truly, life just isn't so cleanly divided into neat little portions as all that. The human experience is, among other things, a blend of emotional and meaningful experiences, ever dynamic, ever in motion...ebb and flow.

    Again, though, I say this while fully admitting that the experience you're describing is mostly lost on me. Am I completely off base in implying, suggesting, perhaps arguing that Yin bleeding over into Yang--a blend of sorts gradually shifting in balance--might make the whole, dual observance that much more...REAL(maybe tangible or something akin to heightened intensity is what I'm looking for here) you live through the experience?

    I guess I'm suggesting that if you did get your wish, and the extra day was added between them as the "gap," you might lose something in the process.

    1. Steve. What you suggest is what happens de facto. Sometime after 11:02 people start drifting towards the preparations for the celebration. It cannot be otherwise. Most of us wait until the afternoon, others not so much. So at some point every year you will have some people hanging banners and preparing food while others are visiting cemeteries or the homes of fallen comrades. It's that uneasy rubbing of shoulders that kills me.

      The US doesn't really have anything like Yom HaZikaron. More problematically, it has Memorial Day Sale! Your thoughts?

  2. Memorial Day sales...ouch. A painful observation, and absolutely spot on. (sadly)

    My thoughts are that I agree with you. Not only do we lack unity in the observance of remembering the sacrifices of those who have died to preserve our freedoms, independence, and way of life, but the capitalist in us has found a way to shift focus from what we SHOULD be thinking about on Memorial Day to pitching an angle of: since you won't be doing anything meaningful on your day off, why don't you go shopping and hunt for great deals instead?!

    Not everyone falls into this trap, mind you, but it's all too common in the U.S. nonetheless. And the commercialization of the holidays is certainly not unique to Memorial Day...I've seen stores begin to put out Christmas sales items in September (not exaggerating).

    As a side note, I was very glad to see you posting to this blog again, Ben. It's very interesting stuff to read as an outsider--that glimpse of another culture and mindset. I was afraid you'd found it was too time consuming and moved onto other things. Keep it coming! =)