Israel is You and Israel is Me

I’m sure that for many of us sometimes memories can be sweet or they can be painful. For sure, we all have pasts that we recall either in dreams or in those fleeting moments when a familiar smell reminds us of a mother’s baking, or when a sound in the air resembles the voice of a dear one long since gone. But of all kinds of memories, I believe,  are those associated with times of the year-Anniversaries, birthdays, graduations and, of course, the passing of family members.

For me,  August and September are pivotal months that bring me much pain and sorrow. My maternal grandparents, whom I adored and still remember almost daily, died  during these months. My maternal grandfather, who never refused a small boy who ran to his living room window, shouting, “Pop, can I have a dime for ice cream. the Good Humor truck is here.” As crippled as he was, he would slowly rise from his chair by the first floor living room window and toss me the coins that he always seemed to have in his pocket. This man, whom I would sit with for hours, died the August before my bar mitzvah.

My grandma, who was the most wonderful influence on my life, a woman who would not only make this chubby youngster anything he wanted to eat, whose dress I hid behind when I knew I was in trouble. When I knew that I had been “a bad boy,” and who sat behind me when I played poker with my friends and, who often. at the end of a game that I had lost, would look at me and say, “On this you bet money?” in her Yiddish inflected mordant syntax. G-d, I miss her to this day, after 40 years of her death, She died over Labor Day weekend, 1974. I was 22 years old, that was when my childhood ended.

My parents divorced during a September right after my grandmother passed and, now you can understand why this time of year, fills me with sadness and brings me to tears from time to time. But, to make what might be a drastic analogy, maybe even something scurrilous and outrageous, these same months also bring hope and happiness.

My wife, my beloved bride and life partner, became mine on a Sunday in August. My first born child, was recently wed this month and my wife and I were greeted with the news that our daughter in law and son will present us, G-d willing, with our first grandchild within weeks.

it’s weird the way things happen in a lifetime. Israel too, has passed through a horrific August with missiles fired at our country, with 64 of the cream of our youth, murdered by a vicious and savage enemy and several others, including an innocent 4 year old boy, torn apart by the barbarian’s steel and fire. Yet, we continue with our lives, we travel our cities without fear, with our heads held high, even as the news carries images of somber funerals and we hear the cries of parents burying their children.

No, our war is far from over, and there will assuredly be more funerals and deaths. We cannot prevent this, we can hope only to limit our grief. Just as a family, like mine, remembers the sad and the painful, we, as a nation, must live on and remember our losses with an emptiness in our hearts, but also, with the joy of happy times to come.

Yes, I cry when I remember my grandparents, but there are also scenes in my mind’s eye that bring me to gales of laughter and tears of joy when I recall the good times, the happiness of my youth and the memories that are sweet.

We cannot surrender to our grief, nor can we give in to the compulsion to make decisions now that seem honest and righteous, but are, in reality, determinations based on what is expedient, not on what is the least apparently painful. We cannot allow our disappointments, our criticisms, our present day backbiting and Monday morning quarterbacking to influence life and death issues that we will surely be faced with again. Like a family which has lost its dearest members, we do not honor their memories by refusing to go on living our lives and making terrible mistakes based on what we have lost. The only way yo honor their loss, is to live on with hope, That is what we, in Israel, must do.

Israel is a people, not only a nation, not only a geo-political state, but a state of mind with passion, pain and pleasure. Israel is a family that celebrates good and commemorates grief. Israel is in all of us. Israel demands that we live well, that we hold our heads high and that we bless and treasure every day the sun rises on our tiny Jewish country.

Israel is you and Israel is me.

About the Author
Irwin was born in New York City and is now retired. He lives in Maaleh Adumim since making aliyah 7 years ago.