The Mourning After
Her father was killed in the Six-Day War, her older brother in the Yom Kippur War. Then her other brother died in an accident and her sister fell victim to cancer. The siren of mourning on Memorial Day does not, she says, give expression to her pain. This year, Tamar Paikes plans to mark the day by doing a headstand.
I am Tamar, a multidisciplinary artist. I was born in 1967 in Jerusalem, the city I reside in to this day. Bereavement and memory are essential elements of my life and my work. My father, Lt. Col. Michael Paikes, was killed in the battle for Abu Tor in Jerusalem. My two brothers and my sister each died in different ways - war, accident and disease. I would like for there to be one day of remembrance that would contain the pain and the loss of all the beloved people I lost and that others lost. Memorial Day in its present format distances me from the dead."
That was taken from an e-mail written by Tamar Paikes three months ago. In order to feel close to the dead again, she added, and to transform the experience of loss into something that will draw Jews and Arabs, veteran Israelis and new immigrants closer together, she proposes a different form of mourning: "A ceremony to which everyone who wants to remember all of those who have passed will be invited; those who died of old age and those who died prematurely, Arabs and Jews... At the center of the ceremony will be a performance by a group of people who will stand on their heads while the siren goes off."
Shocking and horrific
Paikes runs almost every morning, taking on six kilometers with a girlfriend. Sometimes she has the feeling that her father, whom she never knew, is running alongside her. Sometimes she runs past the place where he was killed. He was nearly 36 years old when he died, in the battle for Jerusalem, on the second day of the Six-Day War in 1967. Lt. Col. Paikes, the commander of the Jerusalem Brigade, fell in Abu Tor, close to (though not exactly) where the street named for him - Rehov Hamefaked (Commander Street) - is located.
When he was killed, his wife, Arnona Paikes, then 35, was in a shelter in their home on Jerusalem's Lincoln Street, about a kilometer away. With her were the couple's three children: Yonatan (Yoni), the firstborn, who was 14 at the time, Michal (Pitzi), 10, and Daniel, aged 1. Tamar was growing in her mother's belly.
Arnona was the daughter of Ben-Zion Luria, an established researcher on the Bible and the Land of Israel. Along with the writer S.Y. Agnon and other intellectuals, Luria was one of the first to settle in the community, a wind-blasted area at the far end of the Talpiot neighborhood. He and his wife lived opposite the channel of Arnon Creek, and when their first daughter was born - the first girl born in the neighborhood - they decided to name her for the creek. What a lovely idea, the neighbors said, we'll call the whole area by that name - Jerusalem's Arnona neighborhood. Ben-Zion Luria, a nature and hiking buff, was a significant figure in his granddaughter Tamar's life until his death a few years ago, at the age of 96.
His daughter Arnona Luria met Michael Paikes during her army service. He was a paratrooper, and his family's fourth generation in the country. After marrying, they lived in different places, all close to the bases where he was posted, until moving to Jerusalem, where their fourth child, Tamar, was born following Michael's death.
"My mother taught literature and language, and later mainly wrote school curricula," Tamar Paikes says. "A friend of my father's asked the army to promote my father posthumously so my mother would get a slightly higher pension, but was told by the Defense Ministry that this was impossible." Tamar heard this story, along with everything else connected to her father's death, only years later. Her mother, an impressive, articulate woman with a sense of humor, does not like to talk about death. She never took her daughter to Michael's grave or to the site where he was killed.
When Tamar was still a baby, the family moved to the Talbieh neighborhood, into an apartment that had been purchased before Michael's death. Tamar's father's uniform hung in a closet in her room, and sometimes she dreamed that there was also a body in there. Her mother, though, hinted that she not ask what happened to him.
"What difference does it make how he died, the main thing is that he's dead," Arnona once told her little daughter, who wanted to know why she didn't have a father. From that moment, Tamar stopped asking.
Her father's place was taken by her big brother. "Yoni was a person everyone loved," she says. "He was also quite a genius. We all attended Leyada [Hebrew University Secondary School] - but my siblings were admitted because they were terrifically talented, whereas I was admitted despite not passing one test. Yoni had a great soul and mystically, I think each of us had the feeling that he was loved by Yoni the most."
Yoni was accepted into a pilots' course in the Israel Air Force, but did not make the cutoff; he continued from there in the Armored Corps. He was killed in the Golan Heights on the second day of the Yom Kippur War of 1973, but for three months was listed as missing in action. Tamar was 6 at the time.
"My father's death was something I was used to," she says. "I was born into the situation. I was a bit ashamed that I had no father, but still, it seemed like something normal to me. I naively thought it was the most unproblematic thing in the world. The shocking and horrific crisis came when my big brother, Yoni, was killed."
Her mother could not bear memorial ceremonies and eulogies, she says. "She had a photograph of my father above her bed. At some point she took it down and replaced it with a photo of Yoni. Then she could no longer handle the pictures and instead hung a photograph of me, taken when I was pregnant," Tamar recalls. "My mother used to tell this story about how, at the outset of her path as a bereaved mother, she went with us to a memorial ceremony. With each family, the officers pointed out where their loved one had died, but when they got to Yoni they began arguing over who would tell the story of how and where he was killed. There was apparently some screwup there, and after that she stopped attending memorial ceremonies.
"And there is another story, though I always wonder why it is told in our family," Tamar continues. "President [Zalman] Shazar was my grandmother's cousin. At Yoni's funeral, Shazar got up to deliver the eulogy, at which point my grandfather turned his back on him and everyone left. They weren't ready for eulogies."
Why was that, do you think?
Tamar ponders the question and at this stage is joined by her husband, Avi Posen - a former journalist who is now in high-tech, and who also used to be religious and is now totally secular. He starts making coffee on the other side of the counter that separates the living room from the dining area.
"If I can throw in a comment," he says, "I would say that Arnona, in complete contrast to her husband, for example - who was religious and immersed in all the religious ceremonies - Arnona simply cannot tolerate ceremonies and schmaltz and cliches, talk about flowers that were plucked and the heroism of the warriors. And I say that to her credit."
"There is something intolerable about standing next to the grave," Tamar adds. "Especially the grave of a son, which hamsa-hamsa-hamsa will not happen to me. There were battles over this between my grandmother and my father's father, who was of course brokenhearted over the death of his firstborn son. When we were children, my grandfather secretly took us to the monument at Tel Nof. Why secretly? So my mother wouldn't know."
It was only a few years ago that Tamar first visited her father's grave, along with her sister Michal, in the course of making a film about her family. "The greatest crisis I experienced was when my brother was killed, but in retrospect I understand that the trauma of my father being killed was a kind of opening shot. As though Yoni contained within him the earlier trauma. I can't answer your question about what I felt, but I can say that I performed an act of mental conservation of each and every moment I spent with him. I constantly reconstructed every word we said to each other and every situation in which he was present, and I still do it to this day."
Did you do so consciously?
"Now I understand it, but at the time it was not a conscious act. It was like creating a kind of treasure chest for myself."
And how did your mother react?
"What I remember is that all at once, with tremendous speed, she got rid of all his things. This was because she remembered from my father's death that it had been hard for her to get rid of his things."
Can a 6-year-old child understand death?
"I have a 6-year-old daughter, Romy, who is deeply preoccupied with the death of my sister and misses her very much. She also misses my father and her uncles, whom she never knew. When I look at her, there is no doubt that she understands. But I think that a 6-year-old is also occupied with 3,000 other things and there is no hierarchy. You are busy playing and growing up and fighting and all sorts of things."
Tamar's brother Daniel was 7 when Yoni was killed. There was only a year and a month that separated Daniel and Tamar, and so they grew up almost as twins.
"I admired Daniel," she says. "I wanted to do everything he did. I wasn't aware of the fact that I admired him. He did a year of national service through the scouts and so did I, and it was one of the hardest years of my life. He read books nonstop and was also terrifically knowledgeable and a kind of visionary, but good at mathematics and the sciences, too. On the other hand, his writing ability and oral expression were quite limited, and he also lacked the muscle to show flexibility toward his surroundings. Nothing could budge him from his occupations. He loved being outdoors and had a strong tie to matters related to navigation and animals. He participated in enrichment groups of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. He was one of those kids who pick up snakes. For me, this was like a symbol of freedom: The guy can walk out of the house without being afraid of anything.
"Even before his army service," she continues, "Daniel started mountain climbing. He climbed the cliffs in Hinnom Valley [in Jerusalem], so I also tried to climb them, but I really wasn't cut out for it. The army wanted to protect him, because his father and his brother had been killed, so they let him be a climbing instructor for his service. Afterward, he joined the Alpine Club and went climbing all over the world. He felt he had found himself. Once, on a mountain in Kenya, an elephant entered their tent and they ran for it. He lived exactly as he liked. His dream was to specialize in ice climbing, and there's a place in France where you can learn that. So he went to Chamonix and on one of his climbing expeditions [in 1989], when he was with an English climber, he stuck a piton in a rock that was perched on ice. The rock dislodged and they both fell into the abyss and crashed to their death."
How did you hear about it?
"I was at my friend Eitan's place, on Sabbath eve, and my mother called and said: 'Come home, Daniel has been killed.' Eitan took me home and I cried and cried. It took me a long time to understand that it had actually happened."
How did your mother react?
"My mother has a vitality and an inner force that wants very terribly to live. Of course it's much more complex than that."
Is she a sad woman?
"Not in the least. She is a very tough woman, but not sad at all. With my mother you can bust a gut laughing."
And are you a sad woman?
"I am both sad and not sad. But I refuse to walk around with a coffin on my back."
How do you regard the improbable incidence of so much death in your family?
"I always looked for an answer and I am still looking. I don't think it is mere chance. It seems to me that Daniel's death is connected to my father's death and to Yoni's death, but I don't quite understand how. Maybe the attitude toward death and danger changes when things like that happen in a family. Even my mother wasn't so enthusiastic about Daniel's climbing. I myself am very careful about doing dangerous things. But maybe Daniel developed a defiance toward death. By the way, when he was little and was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said: 'To be a soldier, but without being killed.' Maybe Daniel wanted to prove to himself that he could triumph over death, that even if he took risks and was a hero, it would not happen to him."
Tamar's mother refused to let others share her mourning, visit the graves, cry at memorial ceremonies or walk around bent with grief. "Although sometimes, when she wanted to talk about my father or about one of my brothers, she would talk," Tamar says. But, driven by the need for inner independence and to recoil from dictates, ceremonies and symbols, Arnona also did not adopt the image of the bereaved woman, proud of the sacrifice she had made for the greater glory of Israel. On Memorial Day she hangs a flag with a black ribbon, "but there is always a kind of cocktail party at our place that evening, with guests and a lot of laughter," Tamar says.
Tamar Paikes found her haven from the loss and the unarticulated grief that surrounded her in art. From an early age she learned how to express in art that which dared not speak its name at home, and her mother encouraged her. Paikes is a highly gifted artist who works in multiple fields: She is a potter, a sculptor, creates prints and collages, paints charmingly in a variety of techniques and does paintings of flowers that evoke the style of Japanese art. Some of the furniture in her home - on the outskirts of Jerusalem's Greek Colony - is also adorned with her artwork.
Her home is a ground-floor apartment that opens onto a large, well-lit, joyful yard. From the grief and the ruins of the family into which she was born, Tamar has succeeded in establishing, with her husband, a "regular" family, no less happy than other families, for their two daughters, 10-year-old Noa, and Romy. During the course of our conversation, when she remembers the loved ones who have passed, she wipes away a tear. It is also very easy to make her laugh.
She has shown her work in exhibitions and some of her creations can be seen in the streets of Jerusalem. Her talent needs no proof, but "as a serial rejectee" as she puts it, she was not admitted to the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, so she took textile design at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan. She was also the sock designer for the Delta clothing company for five months.
Returning to Jerusalem after her studies, she met Avi at the home of mutual friends. "I was still on sandwiches when I was suddenly invited for Shabbat cholent at Avi's. At the time, he was working for Channel 1, and I was charmed by the idea of having lunch. I was seeing someone then, and Avi said: 'Call me when he leaves you.' In the end, it wasn't I who called, but Avi who called me. I found it touching that the fact that someone else left me did not, in his eyes, diminish my worth."
With the life story you were already lugging around, were men scared off? Weren't you afraid you would frighten them all away?
"I was afraid to tell the story to everyone, not just to men, and to this day I am afraid. I am afraid as I talk to you."
Because of that fear, Tamar requested that photos of her father and brothers not accompany this article. "It's hard for me to look at those pictures and it will certainly be hard for me to see them spread out in the paper for everyone to see, not to mention what it might do to my mother."
Arnona, faithful to her approach that emotions should only be internalized and repressed, has resisted psychological counseling all her life. "She regarded psychologists and social workers as absolutely beyond the pale," Tamar says.
So who did you talk to - your sister?
"My sister was the introspective type. A lot like my mother. I have a close friend, Noa Ben Haim, a psychiatrist, but even before she began her studies she was always in favor of talking, and after Daniel was killed she suggested that I get psychological therapy. The therapy helped me formulate a worldview of my own. It also related to my becoming a mother myself. My orphanhood suddenly became quite flagrant. Through the therapy, I recognized that I am different from my family: I need to talk, I need to understand. One of the things that resulted from the therapy was my decision to make the film."
The movie she is referring to is her 50-minute documentary, entitled "Cardboard Squares," which she began working on seven years ago, when her daughter Noa was 3. It was broadcast on cable television in Israel in 2007.
"I was very immersed in a kind of attempt to place three entries in my encyclopedia: one father, one brother and another brother," she says. "In practice, completely different things happened to me while I was making the film. I think that my central occupation in life and in the film is with death and the preoccupation with my mother's attitude toward death. That confrontation has occupied me for my entire life. It's like research that was forced on me."
Do you believe in God?
"Yes, but not the God of the religious population."
Is it a good God?
"He lives in other concepts."
Do you believe there is a mystical connection between all of these deaths?
"It's like if someone in one family commits suicide, there is a chance that someone else will also commit suicide. There is also an element here of a boundary being breached - as though from the moment one event like this takes place, it somehow makes this possibility realizable for someone else in the family, too, as if someone who has killed one person is permitted to kill another one."
In Yonatan's case, for whom was it permitted? God? The army?
"I can't answer that. It's a feeling inside me that I can't put into words."
Is it something like karma, as though it's permitted to hurt this family?
"Yes, yes, although I have serious reservations about that. There is an element of bad luck here. Like with people who went through the Holocaust."
How did your mother react to your documentary?
"At first my mother was terribly afraid of the film, because it uncovered something she had kept to herself for years, and she hated all the publicity and exposure, but on the other hand I feel that it allowed her to say exactly what she wanted. She has a very powerful presence in the film. I think I was able to convey her worldview in a way that was acceptable to her, and I think she thanks me for it."
And your sister?
"She was very happy that I made the film. My sister was a physician and believed that only the physical body should be treated. It was only when I made the film that the two of us went for the first time in our lives to visit the graves of dad and Yoni on Mount Herzl [the military cemetery in Jerusalem]. We had never been there before."
Release from karma
"I really feel as though I am being dragged in my underpants through the city park," Arnona Paikes says in the documentary, when her daughter asks that she speak on-camera about her husband and children, explaining that it's important to her.
"I'm sorry, but I am displaying total insensitivity here," the mother replies. "I think you are asking for things that are in utter contradiction to my whole way of life... I do not want to walk down that street. It is a public street which has a very distinctive face and I do not want to be part of this celebration... When I see the memorial ceremonies I want to throw up and I don't want to say how I feel about the services for the fallen and the blood and the tears and the columns of smoke... These movies set Israel on the path of wars."
Six months after the film was screened, Tamar's sister Michal died of a particularly aggressive form of cancer. "I am certain that my sister's death is connected to what happened to my father and brothers," Tamar says. "Pitzi herself would have said that she'd read studies saying that people who went through the Holocaust were more susceptible to cancer."
Did she feel like a Holocaust survivor?
"That is an interesting question to which I have no answer. But she felt as though she had achieved the goals she dreamed of and succeeded in arriving at good places. One of the interesting things with us was that because we didn't talk among the family, each of us felt that what had happened, happened only to him. It wasn't mourning on the part of the whole family, it was mourning for each of us individually."
Do you feel guilty that you are still alive?
"On the contrary - I feel angry. At the fact that they died and at the fact that the whole maintenance of the family is left to me."
Aren't you fearful for your daughters?
"I think that I am a totally non-fearful mother. My girls went with Avi to Sinai during Passover and I was not afraid for them at all, but the fact that I myself did not go has to do with my being careful about doing things one can die from - I am afraid of the family curse, which may have got to me. But I have no anxieties about the girls, because there is something very instinctive about motherhood that is unrelated to anything else."
Were you happy you had girls and not boys?
"Very happy. And that definitely has to do with the fact that girls are not killed in the army. I was also happy when Noa wanted to switch from the Modi'in Tribe in the scouts, in which I and all my siblings had also been members, to a different tribe. 'Excellent,' I told her, and felt that she was releasing herself from the karma."
Doesn't your mother recall the losses during every holiday and joyous event?
"I imagine that she counts the losses every day, but she doesn't talk about it."
In the film, though, she was willing to tell Tamar that there is something about her that resembles her father, something about the way she looks at things. Arnona also says that "children who die take with them a large part of your capabilities." On the eve of Memorial Day, Tamar says in the film, "we are busy doing the opposite of what everyone else does." The house fills up with guests. She herself, for example, is seen on that day at her mother's home whispering with Michal, her sister, and the two of them burst into laughter. "It would have been a perfect party if the siren hadn't gone off in the middle," she says during the film.
Tamar's father, according to the stories, liked to run across the hills, and she does, too. "I am a very physical person, like him, and pottery, which is presently the love of my life, also connects to that physicality. I like doing things that combine concentration of mind and body," she says. "And it's in that way, with that combination, that I also want to mourn, to find my ceremony, which will allow me to mourn like that."
These thoughts lead to the idea of the headstand, "because standing on one's head is a physical, mental, very private and personal experience, something you do by yourself. That is the way to mourn. With the body. With concentration. It's an idea I've had for a few years now. Standing on the head in general preoccupies me visually. About five years ago, I did three paintings that I submitted for a scholarship. I called them 'Headstand.' In them, my mother, Noa and I are doing headstands. (I didn't get the scholarship - I am a serial rejectee, as you know.)
"Before my sister died, and after I started therapy, my Memorial Day ceremony was running with a girlfriend to my father's monument in Abu Tor. One day I read an article by Tamar Rotem, which said that the wailing of the siren rolls from one end of the country to the other, and that defined something for me which I had not been able to define before: that it is impossible to escape that siren. And suddenly I felt that I did not identify with what I was being told, to remember your father and your big brother right now, because they are part of the siren, and to leave the others outside, because they do not have a siren. The same paper reported that there were traffic jams in Japan because they have a general day of mourning, on which everyone visits the cemeteries. I thought to myself that it's too bad we don't have such a thing in Israel."
Tamar would like there to be one day of remembrance, like in Japan, for everyone in Israel, "for Jews and Arabs, for those who died of old age or in the army or in the cradle or in traffic accidents. Because, look at me: On Memorial Day there is a siren for dad and for Yoni, but that siren does not cover Daniel or Pitzi, and not everyone is buried in the same place, because Daniel wasn't good enough to be buried in the same plot as dad and Yoni, so he is buried somewhere else and Pitzi somewhere else."
Her desire is not politically motivated, she maintains. "I am a very nonpolitical person," she says, "but on the other hand my two daughters attend the bilingual [Hebrew-Arabic] school and they have friends in [the Arab villages of] Beit Safafa, Beit Hanina, Abu Tor and other places. This also drew us close to the Arab population in the city - I felt how easily those citizens could be our friends. I want to say that we are also friends in grief and mourning and that there should be a remembrance day for everyone who has died."
In other words, if life has not succeeded in uniting Jews and Arabs, maybe the common experience of death can unite everyone?
"Yes. Every person in the world has lost someone."
Why is it so hard to stand to attention during the siren?
"I feel that the state is putting me into a cage against my will. Everyone looks at me and pities me and on the other hand expects me to stand to attention. But who, if not me, has the right to decide whether I want to stand to attention or not? I want to mourn differently."
And so, three months ago, Tamar sent an invitation to people to join a group in which, under the guidance of a yoga instructor, they would learn to stand on their head - in preparation for Memorial Day. Six people joined, she says. "I heard that a group has begun training in Tel Aviv, too, and what happens during the training is very interesting."
The invitation explained her idea in the following words: "A meticulous headstand requires personal and group training. Standing on one's head is no simple thing. It's necessary to change the natural center of gravity, and it's necessary to apply concentration and intention. During the headstand, a new point of view of the old reality forms, originating in the earth and continuing in the sky. The physical difficulty lends a different dimension to time. Every second is counted."
She hopes that on the eve of Memorial Day she will be joined in the ceremony - which will also be an artistic performance - by those who did not take part in the training but can do a headstand, and by others who will choose just to watch.
Have you encountered any objections?
"My aunts and uncles did not respond, which I took to mean that they are not in favor of it, but my religious relatives understood. The woman I recruited as a teacher, and who it turned out had been an officer for army casualties, was very hesitant. The army left some kind of psychic wound in her, and on the day she finished being an officer she went to India for seven years. At first she was actually very much in favor of the conventional memorial ceremony, but she later changed her mind."
Will your mother come?
"That is the question of questions." W
Like us on Facebook and get articles directly in your news feed