Will Israel Survive?

For the first time in four decades, Israel stands naked, and not as when the state was born; without a fig leaf, without even an olive branch.

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Israeli soldiers observe minute of silence during Memorial Day service, May 4, 2014.
Israeli soldiers observe minute of silence during Memorial Day service, May 4, 2014.Credit: AP

This melancholy song was also sung on Memorial Day, as it is every year: “You didn’t want to be there at all — so what, no one asked you ... When you grow up and you have a son who will come and ask what will be when I grow up, tell him leave it alone, don’t ask.”

These beautiful words by Yaakov Gilad (music by Yehuda Poliker) I know by heart, but the heart refuses to reveal to the mouth their full significance. “Don’t ask”: Better not to ask so as not to know, since serving the sentence is preferable to carrying out justice: How have the heroes fallen during the wars, why and for what, and what kind of life does death command. But bad circumstances can sometimes changes things for the better. More and more grief-struck people are finally beginning to ask. Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Sima Kadmon described the 40th-year memorial service for Phantom pilot Capt. Yigal Stavy, at which his sister, Nurith Stavy, asked his friends: “I want to know, did Yigal die in vain?”

“It was a question, but she didn’t expect an answer,” wrote Kadmon. In truth, there is no need to respond, since the response is in the question, which fills us with awe and which gives the holiness to this day — and to the 23,169 casualties. Not all of them fell in wars of no choice, defending their home. If only we had not stayed silent, or were silenced, when the shooting began, if only we had not given up on asking the questions we wanted to ask in advance, so many souls would not now be bound up in the chain of speeches and flags, instead of in the chain of life.

That is how we were taught, always and forever — to be quiet, not to ask overly painful questions. That is how we were trained to be obedient, without speaking or answering. Dear mothers and fathers: Follow the example of our patriarch, who was ordered to take his son and slaughter him. Did he ask superfluous questions? “Here I am,” he said immediately, and hurried to lay the wood in order without asking questions, and laid Isaac on the wood and took the knife and stretched forth his hand.

No expression of resistance — forget about it, God. Nor even wonder: My God, my God, why? And this shameful behavior is still held up as a magnificent example of devotion for all generations. This disaster, when there are no longer enough rams nearby as alternative sacrifices, and even veal calves for the Independence Day barbecue have to be imported from Australia. And this is how, with a bowed head, the chain of the Binding of Isaac continues, since this is how God commanded Abraham, and this is how Abraham commanded his descendants: Follow my footsteps to Mount Moriah. God, if only we could be orphaned from you completely, and also from Abraham, yours and ours. As the prophet Isaiah says, we have all reared and brought up parents, leaders and God; and they have rebelled against us. And who is in the role of God today?

“Did he die in vain?” his sister asks. And a bereaved father answers, like the son in the Passover Haggadah who does not know how to ask a question: “For as long as we have a state, we can remember and pass on the heritage,” we read this week in the newspaper. He was not alone, and don’t play dumb: Who among you has not heard in recent years the most terrible of questions — “What do you think, will Israel survive?” And you too ask in a whisper, and the answer is found within the question itself.

I explain to my students that their questions are more important than their answers. Knowing what you are asking is more important than knowing what you will answer. It is actually their questions that are the test, and what gives them their grade. And to the best question of all the lecturer has no answer, perhaps because he dares not give it to his students or to himself.

Existential questions were truly not asked hers before, even the lies were agreed upon. For the first time in four decades, Israel stands naked, and not as when the state was born; without a fig leaf, without even an olive branch. From the entire “peace process” and “what Jew does not want peace,” were are left with only the speeches of President Shimon Peres, and soon we will be left without those too. Only me and you and the next war.

As the prophet Jeremiah did not say: Peace, peace and there is no dream. And without a dream, we are alone, face to face with the reality of life and death. And the questions arise by themselves, after we gave birth to the children of the winter of 1973, in the words of the song — and other winters. And in the words of another poem and song, Will we exist, or did we only dream? That is the question.

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