They have not yet found time. Still bone weary from days and from nights in the field
Full of endless fatigue and unrested,
Yet the dew of their youth.
Is still seen on their head
Thus they stand at attention, giving no sign of life or death
Then a nation in tears and amazement
will ask: “Who are you?”
And they will answer quietly, “We are the silver platter on which the Jewish state was given.”
(The Silver Platter, Natan Alterman, 1947)
My Ultra-Orthodox brother.
As you and your community descend upon Jerusalem this Sunday to raise your voices against the government, I ask you also to open your eyes.
Look at the bus ticket you’re holding. 20 shekel? That was subsidized, in part, by the Israeli government. By taxes that someone had to pay.
If you’re coming in from Ramat Gan or Bnei Brak, take a look out of the window. To the south you will see the Burma Road. A little farther down, you will see the metal corpses of armored vehicles that tried to break the siege on Jerusalem. Those vehicle once held the tormented bodies of soldiers who also had a price to pay.
Not too much farther, look to your right and read the signs. Harel Junction. Named after the Harel Brigade that lost 248 Palmach soldiers while fighting to liberate Jerusalem during the War of Independence. The brigade itself is named after Mt. Zion. After praying towards the mountain for 2000 years, these men fought to death to approach the mountain. And, they too, had a price to pay.
There’s more though. Now open your ears. On Highway 1, listen to the cacophonic drilling taking place during the never-ending expansion project of the highway. By 2018 there will be 10 million cars on the street, driving hard-working people to work. Many have a three hour daily commute, travelling to work in order to pay their bills, educate their children and maybe, just maybe, have a little bit left over after paying taxes. Yes, they have a heavy price to pay too.
You can even look around on the bus. It’s Sunday, so you might see some soldiers. Some are probably combat soldiers, going back to the military for two weeks and always slightly aware that there is a slight chance that they won’t come back. Their mothers are aware of that too. Again, a heavy price to pay. Other soldiers are just going in for a day at the office, which they do every day for three years. Three of their best years, spent giving back. Quite a heavy price.
Get off the bus in Jerusalem and look around. Listen. Take in the sights and sounds. Notice that besides the police officers who you are forcing to deploy, no one is around. No, Jerusalem is not a ghost town. It’s a city of people who need to work, who can’t afford to take a Sunday off in order to demonstrate. Notice the soaring bridge at the entrance to the city, the light rail, the Intel factory, the burgeoning economy. That, my friend, is the reward of Israelis who have paid the price, who continue to pay the price, every single day.
I wish that your school had taught you contemporary literature. I wish that you had read Natan Alterman’s poem, “The Silver Platter”. Because I could talk to you and tell you that Mr. Alterman, way back in 1947, had it all wrong. The silver platter on which we received this country, on which this country flourishes, is not one of death. It is one of life. It is a vibrant pride in our country, a sense of devotion and awareness. This ferocious pride fuels a platter that we cultivate, that we coax into growth, which we can then enjoy. It is not one of entitlement or anger, of self-pity or seclusion.
But, my brother, this silver platter of life is heavy. We cannot shoulder this burden alone. When you come to Jerusalem, open your eyes. You will see a city that is bent under a platter. Bent, but not broken. Yes, we have been staggering these past couple of years. The prices add up. Life after life, bill after bill. And as we shoulder this burden, we are looking right back at you. Waiting for you to join us.