Israel needs a Tea Party — Remembering Haim Gouri z”l

I mourn the loss of poet Haim Gouri, as well as the Israel his songs made worth the effort
Haim Gouri (left) in the Palmach in 1949. (Palmach Archive/Public Domain)
Haim Gouri (left) in the Palmach in 1949. (Palmach Archive/Public Domain)

Israel needs a Tea Party. A real Tea Party. The kind where you remember your founding fathers and mothers. But also the kind where you sip a glass of tea or a glayzeleh tay or a kubayit chi through a sugar cube clenched between your teeth. The kind where you nibble golden black muhn cakes dripping with honey and poppy seeds and lacy, sugar-powdered mamoul filled with sticky medjool dates.

We need to remember what they dreamed for us before and after the poets and musicians lured them across the sea from lands where they shoveled icy driveways and invented dances where feet wouldn’t touch ground that was not this hallowed, bloody soil.

We need to remember the siren songs that called to orphaned teens like my parents who boarded illegal ships crammed with starved and broken refugees. Songs that called to Moroccan families to flee lush neighborhoods and thriving businesses in the stealth of night. Songs that comforted and inspired jewelers whose workshops lined the rivers of Babylon, when their tiny daughters relinquished their remaining wealth — the tiny golden posts in their daughters’ ear lobes — to the guards at the final check posts in Iraq.

Politicians schemed. Zionist leaders cajoled. And rabbis admonished. But song carried those who chose the uncertainty of Palestine over the comfort of North America and Europe. Songs sung by cool green lakes under tall, leafy trees in summer camps in Upstate New York and in golden valleys lined with grapes in Northern California. Songs that stuck in their craws and stick in ours. That washed their cheeks and wash ours when they we could no longer deny the price that they we have paid and are still paying for something better, finer, more meaningful and more exalted.

They did not dream of “relative peace” or a bull market or a culinary mecca or the open skies of economy airfare. They dreamed of real peace, real security, of national determination, and the real freedom to create Jewish culture, revive a Jewish language, practice and express Judaism as they wished, and write and rewrite Jewish song. Many of them and many of us died for this dream.

Haim Gouri died last night. The poet, journalist and filmmaker who won the Bialik Prize for Literature and the Israel Prize for Poetry; who enlisted in the Palmach; who was dispatched to Hungary in 1947 to assist Jews leaving for Mandate Palestine; and who served as the deputy-commander of the Negev Brigade, is undoubtedly among the leading lights of Israel’s founding generation. But he said the following in 2016, when he refused to accept a NIS 50,000 ($12,800) literature prize for Zionist works of art awarded by the Culture and Sports Ministry:

“I will not say what my opinion of the prize for Zionist art is. I was born a Zionist and will die a Zionist, and all my life I fought for Zionism — but I do not find a connection between this book [‘Though I Wished for More of More’] and the prize.”

Haim Gouri will be fittingly laid to rest today in Jerusalem in a plot reserved for figures of his stature. But he asked that a handful of the sand that lines the beaches of Tel Aviv in the city where he was born and which I call my home be placed in his grave beneath Jerusalem’s limestone and clay.

Let me leave you with an invitation to tea, and his high school classmate Yitzhak Rabin z”l’s favorite song, “Hareut” (music Sasha Argov z”l, lyrics Haim Gouri z”l):

About the Author
Varda Spiegel was Nurse-Director of the Bedouin Mobile Unit of the Negev, later serving as Maternal-Child Health Director for the Ministry of Health Jerusalem District. I am the author of Hershele and the Chicken Skates, was the English Web Content Manager for the Israel Museum and have translated from Hebrew to English for Haaretz and the ANU Museum of the Jewish People. I'm a grandmother, mother, and beachbum.
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