Every Spring, the Somber Recollection of Life and Death


How do you teach your children that the world is not black and white? How do you teach your children that a split-second decision can change your life forever? How do you teach your children to appreciate the gray zone — the area that cannot be defined, the area that is, well, unknowable?

Frankly, I just don't know, and I'm afraid that I will never be able to know the answers, especially after listening to the radio in Israel during the days of remembrance: Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Yom Hazikaron, when we memorialize those who have fallen in defense of Israel.

Living here, one feels the heaviness of these days descend upon the country as radio and television waves fill with stories, memories and description of acts, both righteous and less so. Restaurants, theaters, malls and stores shut down. Flags, stickers of local flowers and brightly colored ribbons pop out. People seem to move more slowly, lost in their selves, thinking about what it means to be here.

For many, the radio is often thought of as something to have playing in the background as we work, drive, play or party. But in Israel, the radio is an instrument of obsession. We listen every hour to the news headlines, live reports and speeches and, of course, to our favorite music.

However, on memorial days — both for the Shoah and for those who have served the State of Israel and Jewish people — the radio is transformed into a content provider. It urges, almost forces, us to cease and desist all other activities, to listen, understand and feel the pathos. Special music is played, special programs are broadcast, and words from various survivor organizations or fallen soldiers groups are spoken slowly and sonorously so that we understand and remember. Life, they seem to say, hinges upon sacrifice. We should not take this lightly.

The radio during these days thus becomes the conscience of the country — the thought-provoker, rather than the reporter. It forces us to come to grips with who we are, where we live and to whom we are connected. For an American oleh, it brings me closer to my countrywomen and men, and connects me to their experiences, however much they vary from those of mine and my family.

During Yom Hashoah this year, I listened to the radio while vainly attempting to concentrate on work. Forget it. My conscience would not let me focus, as I was absorbed into survivors' stories. For almost five hours, no commercials were played, and news on the hour was read in a muted tone. On Galei Tzahal (Army Radio), there was no reporting, no talk shows, no interviews and no scoops, just mournful, melancholy music for the soul and stories of those who survived.

For Yom Hazikaron, it is much of the same as we hear narratives of soldiers, diplomats and victims of terror attacks who were killed not only during Israel's 62 years, but also during the period before the state. We learn how families, wives, children, mothers and girlfriends deal with their grief. We hear of battles, decisions made and actions executed.

Then, after we have once again been integrated into the citizenry of Israel, we turn our thoughts to the streets and parks to celebrate our independence. Yet even so, I will still pass very quietly by the door of my downstairs' neighbors, whose son was killed by a roadside bomb during the second intifada. His life, I'm reminded, has not been taken for naught.

Joshua I. Shuman has family connections in Elkins Park. He made aliyah in 1989 and lives in Jerusalem.



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