19 April 2013
9 Iyar 5773
Tears and Amazement: Israel Yoms and Marathon Tragedy
As we prepare to join others across the state this afternoon in a moment of silence, I would like to reflect on what an intense week it was last week for our community, our city, our state, and our country, both emotionally and spiritually.
Last Monday afternoon in honor of Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day), my ninth grade class and I studied a famous poem, Magash Hakesef (The Silver Platter), by Israeli poet Natan Alterman. Alterman wrote the poem in late 1947, just months before the declaration of the Israeli State and the War of Independence in Israel. The title is based on a quote attributed to Chaim Weizmann, who would become the first President of Israel: “The State will not be given to the Jewish people on a silver platter.”
The poet artfully expresses deep emotional and existential themes about the creation of the State of Israel. One student pointed out several phrases that she felt captured the heart of the poem’s message: “As the nation rises, torn at heart but breathing” (line 3); “standing erect in the moonlight in terror and joy” (line 6); “Then a nation in tears and amazement will ask” (line 17). Each phrase juxtaposes words, phrases, and emotions that paradoxically coexist for a nation whose very freedom, independence, and hope have required sacrifice, heartbreak, and loss. These juxtapositions—of “terror and joy,” “tears and amazement”—are the story of the Jewish people. And they are the human experience fully lived. As we beat to the rhythm of Israel and the Jewish people during these weeks, we strive to help our students understand and feel these wide ranging emotions and to identify with the collective consciousness of our people, our shared past, and our shared future.
How poignant it was that, unknowingly, we were learning these lines and discussing these ideas literally minutes before the events at the Boston Marathon unfolded. As news of the horrific terrorist attacks spread and as the sadness and distress set in, we saw that Boston and our nation were experiencing a wide range of emotions. Sadness and loss, fear and uncertainty, disillusionment . . . it is so hard not to descend into these dark places. At the same time, hearing stories of marathon runners who ran straight to hospitals to give blood, hearing the entire TD Garden sing the national anthem at the Bruins’ game, seeing the heroic first responders rush into the chaos, and learning about all the countless small acts of kindness remind us that our world is filled also with goodness and hope.
This is a human message and also a profoundly Jewish one, the very same message that our people celebrate each year as we move from Yom HaZikaron into Yom HaAtzmaut. This transition had new meaning for us this year as we balanced our love for Israel and “celebration” of the day with our love of and identification with our city and our American nation. Last Tuesday we did share stories of our relationships with Israel; we ate together as a community; we sang Hatikvah. But no streamers blew in the breeze, no music played, and our flags—both American and Israeli—flew at half-mast.
I pointed out to our students the irony that on Yom HaAtzmaut of all days, our friends in Israel were calling and writing us with messages of comfort and support. I also asked them to reflect on the nuances and complexity of American Jewish identity. Last Monday I spoke about our task as Americans to somehow identify with Israelis on Yom HaZikaron; one day later we, as Jews, eager to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, were wrestling with how best to identify and unify with our fellow Bostonians and Americans.
As I have watched our students, faculty, administration, and parents support each other, and as I connected with alumni in Boston and beyond, I have been inspired by the strength, spirit, and resiliency of our Gann family, reminded once again that we are more than a school. We are a community.
Let our community send thoughts, prayers, courage, and strength to those whose lives have been shattered and who are in need of healing as well as to those who are working to bring justice, safety, goodness, peace, and repair to our broken world.
Rabbi Marc Baker