I drafted this poem in 2014 after being assigned to guard the funeral of Max Steinberg, a lone soldier whose life was extinguished during the conflict. I guarded five more funerals that day; the tragedy and absurdity of it all overwhelmed me. I did not know Max well; I had met him briefly at a party and exchanged little more than a few passing pleasantries. The chances that I would meet him so briefly once living some months before and the next being buried in Mount Hertzl seemed ludicrous, but I had learned that this was a heartbreaking reality of this nation.
I too had been a lone soldier the first year of my service, as were my friends who had made aaliyah with me through Garin Tzabar. I served as a combat medic in search and rescue corps while most of my friends served in infantry, in Gaza during operation Protective Edge. During those fraught months and too many others, the stomping of the tireless march of death could be heard closer and closer each day, the senseless vicious cycle of violence devastated ever efficient.
There is nothing original in my story. Most Israelis know someone who fell during one of the many wars and operations that have plagued this nation’s history… Maybe that’s the real woe of this young country: how personal it all is, how with each passing year every casualty seems to be fewer and fewer degrees of separation away. It becomes harder and harder to see the tombstones for the forest of graves. Maybe that’s also the beauty and heart of our society: because it’s all personal, we all bereave each distressing sudden death. Six more soldiers fell with Max, though I do not know their names, they are no less important and no less personal.
This poem was originally dedicated to Max Steinberg, but I’d also like to dedicate to the six soldiers who fell with him when the antitank missile hit, to the countless casualties of war, names I do not know but whose death reverberates across this country. To Maia, Rina, and Lucy Dee, to Alessandro Parini, and to the fifteen other civilians whose lives were extinguished just this year. To the many more lights that will perish.
May we begin to celebrate life as we mourn death…
faces soaked in salt streams.
kaddish, blessing, oh god is great!
Oh, great god, why is my child deep under the ground?
many showed for the final ritual,
why don’t as many show to celebrate the living?
Brother, I cannot bear to hear your mother moan no more,
Sister, I cannot bear to see your father embrace a corpse.
This fog is butchering our souls,
this bloodshed overflows heavy hearts.
We grieve, but the dead cannot hear.
We choke, our voices do not carry our despair.
We are but on the edge of humanity,