My wife and I experienced one of those “only possible in Israel” moments when we viewed the documentary, Rock in the Red Zone, at Beit Avichai in Jerusalem a couple of weeks ago. Rock in the Red Zone is a documentary about the city of Sederot, situated less than a mile from the Gaza border. Sederot is famous for its musical geniuses and infamous for being an open target for thousands of Qassam rockets fired by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other sordid terrorist groups.
Laura Bialis, an American filmmaker, moved to Sederot to document the story of living with the often daily reality of rocket fire and discovered the role that Sederot’s musicians have played both in soothing and giving voice to the pain that its citizens have endured. Hence the title Rock (as in music) in the Red Zone (as in the red alert warning siren to take shelter from incoming rockets).
Here are some of the images that Bialis succeeded in capturing: inspiration and despair, hope and hatred, vulnerability and invincibility, mayhem and melody, betrayal and love, growth and loss, fear and resolve, solitude and community, empathy and brutality. She exposed the government of Israel’s failure to protect the residents of Sederot, but also made visible the thousands of citizens from all over Israel who eventually awoke to their needs and forced a governmental response.
After the screening, Avi Vaknin, a musician who was featured prominently in the documentary, appeared on stage described how receptive audiences that have viewed the documentary have been. When the moderator questioned why, to the best of my memory, Vaknin said something like, “Perhaps it’s because we’re all feeling like we’re living on the periphery.”
In that one sentence, he caught the sentiment that many of us have been feeling after the Paris attack in November 2015. That act of terrorism especially made headlines for its utter horror and because it punctured the security of those of us who have lived freely and without fear until now.
But this documentary was far from discouraging. It reminded me once again about the inherent capacity of the arts to build bridges of empathy with others across time and culture, and how the arts help us assert our unique potential for creativity in the face of those who are destructive. The filmmaker didn’t shy away from anger, hatred and fear, but I was more touched by the subjects who showed that a resilient life is the most meaningful response to violence. And it was an “only possible in Israel moment” because Vaknin did something very Jewish and universal. His music and presence gave testimony to the refusal to allow despair to swallow the hope for a more peaceful coexistence with Israel’s neighbors.
Increasingly, when my wife and I visit Israel, we’re met with concern and skepticism from some friends. But I’ll never apologize or rationalize why I visit often. Like many, we have family and friends there. And it’s only there that I experience those “only possible in Israel moments” that add indescribable depth and richness to my life as a Jew and as a member of the human family. I hope that you’ll find a way to view Rock in the Red Zone. Spoiler Alert: And sometimes the best endings are the most predictable.