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Mid-year new month musings

Today is July 1st. It is a new month and the middle of the secular year—six more months to the end of 2022. This, my fifth blog, is being written in the midst of the American trauma over the Supreme Court’s striking down Roe and Wade, the investigation into January 6th over Trump’s attempt to overthrow the 2020 election results. I am writing two days after the announcement that the State of Israel is going to face yet another election with a caretaker prime minister until November. We are literally in the midst of chaos. There is no need to add other portents of doom: climate change, the return of Covid and the ongoing war between Russia and the Ukraine. One of the few voices of reason has come from the Republican Congresswoman, Liz Cheney, who pointed to the bravery of a former White House aide for coming forward to testify before the committee saying that Cassidy Hutchinson’s superiors “men many years older, are hiding behind executive privilege, anonymity and intimidation.” Little girls can see in her a role model, which America sorely needs because “These days for the most part, men are running the world and it is really not going that well.”

No, I repeat, the world is not going well! I do not see too many, if any, lights at the end of the tunnel. Yet, it is mid-year and I have decided to try and look on the bright side. Needless to say, this phrase immediately evokes Eric Idle’s song from the movie Life of Bryan, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_-q9xeOgG4)

The song begins by pointing out that “Some things in life are bad; They can really make you mad…” That rings true for me and many others. We have had some gains in the past, and now we are returning to the Middle Ages of back-alley abortions, women using hangers to self-abort, rape and abuse victims being denied help. These “things just make you swear and curse”; yet the song says “Don’t grumble, give a whistle; And this’ll help things turn out for the best” which seems impossible to me when I am in the midst of “feeling in the dumps” and when “life seems jolly rotten” and we have to adjust to leaving a fragile government to the unknown.

The song’s refrain: “Always look on the bright side of life, always look on the light side of life” leads me to question, why should we do so? And its answer is because “life is quite absurd, And death’s the final word” and we should “always look on the bright side of death.” Furthermore, the song adds, “Life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it. Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke… . Just remember that the last laugh is on you.”

Revisiting this song after many years does not cheer me up. But I’m trying to find some meaning in all of what is happening around us—trying to make sense and not get too bogged down in the valley of despair and despondence. I wonder, can I find some comfort in Psalms 23:4 “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” This might help a person who believes in a benevolent God, but my God is multi-faceted, often hiding HIS face and vengeful and angry — not at all the compassionate God of rachamim.

In the midst of all this floundering I had an uplifting session in my Thursday morning Bible class. We were discussing the verse “wise speech or knowledge is a precious vessel or object” (Proverbs 20:15) and each woman in the class had something to say. This discussion (all on zoom, with people cutting in occasionally, since they are Israeli and able to unmute themselves) included various opinions about the state of Israeli politics and the lack of politeness in our daily discourse and that wise speech is as rare as gold and rubies. In the midst of this, one of the more optimistic participants, who always sees good as a counterpart to my pessimism—and who quotes poetry all the time, pointed to Naomi Shemer’s (1930-2004) famous song, Anashim Tovim (Good People). For me this was a genuine “aha moment”.

I googled the song and played it for them. Unfortunately, there is no translation into English. It is a song that we all know. It tells us to open up our eyes and look around us, winter is over and spring is coming in, in the field near the road there are purple cornflowers, don’t tell me that all this cannot be. And then the refrain which is that there are good people in the middle of the road, people who are very good, good people who know the way with whom we can march.

At first reading, I thought this song was political and could be applied to Yair Lapid, our new caretaker prime minister whom I have admired since he first entered politics. Before he became a politician, I knew him as a good-looking guy on television from a well-known literary family, who had a journalist father (Tommy Lapid) turned politician and a famous feminist novelist mother (Shulamit Lapid). I had read his book entitled ha-giborim sheli (My Heroes) published in 2008, about four biblical characters, with whom he clearly identified (Esau, Samuel, Abraham and Moses). As someone who herself writes midrash, this book was fascinating to me. He wrote it at age 45, about the same age as I was when I began to write. (This by the way, was the ninth book that he had written—boy was I envious). When he entered politics four years later, I was very interested in following his trajectory. I liked his platform, YESH ATID. There is a future!

Alas, Shemer’s song was not written for the moderate Lapid, it’s not his campaign song. She, who is associated with nationalistic politics, would probably be appalled that I am applying her song to him. She was commissioned to write this song, which you can hear for yourself at https://shironet.mako.co.il/artist?type=lyrics&lang=1&prfid=738&wrkid=437&page=3 Anashim Tovim be’Emtza Haderech was written for a special evening sponsored by the newspaper Yediot Achronot in 1981 to pay tribute to 12 people who represented the very best in the Israel of yesteryear. In short, good people. They named the event after the song which was sung by Shemer herself at the ceremony.

When I told my youngest daughter who identifies as a Buddhist that I was writing this blog, she immediately sent me a link to a YouTube Song Circle – קווים דקים של אור (song-circle.com) which unfortunately has been discontinued. But since I have been having trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I thought it relevant to me that the song is called kavim dakim shel or (Fine Lines of Light). The content is simple enough and you can find the Hebrew on the link. “Teach me the really simple things; please strengthen my good intentions; teach me the really important things; please guide me to positive thinking, because everything is tied together with fine lines of light” (my translation). The musician/artist/composer Ben Benja Shealtiel has devoted his life to a Tantric being that blesses the existence of the planet.

I think that this is good advice for someone like myself who should try and look at the bright side of life, see that the world is full of good people in the middle of the road and to focus on the really important things—each to his or her own.

About the Author
Naomi Graetz taught English at Ben Gurion University of the Negev for 35 years. She is the author of Unlocking the Garden: A Feminist Jewish Look at the Bible, Midrash and God; The Rabbi’s Wife Plays at Murder ; S/He Created Them: Feminist Retellings of Biblical Stories (Professional Press, 1993; second edition Gorgias Press, 2003), Silence is Deadly: Judaism Confronts Wifebeating and Forty Years of Being a Feminist Jew. Since Covid began, she has been teaching Bible from a feminist perspective on zoom.
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