Winter usually comes a bit late where I live. The end-of-December chilly weather barely qualifies as cold, especially for someone who grew up in Upstate NY and lived for decades in Baltimore.
Last week, I pulled out a gray wool sweater from my drawer. On it were two stickers which one of my granddaughters had affixed last winter.
I don’t remove stickers granted to me by my grandchildren. Those little signs of love may fall off on their own, but far be it from me to actually peel them off. I’ve gotten some funny looks in shul when I wear them, but I don’t mind the world knowing how much my little darlings mean to me.
Those stickers from last year reminded me of a wildly-popular 2004 song by the Israeli hip-hop band “Hadag Nachash” – the Fish Snake (don’t ask me, I didn’t name them!) The song was called “The Sticker Song,” and the lyrics were comprised exclusively of phrases found on bumper stickers across Israel. They ranged from the political right (“Hebron, now and forever” and “No Arabs, no terrorism”) to the left (from “The Zealots should die,” to the more sanguine “The entire nation wants peace.”) The song was a brilliant contemporary social commentary.
My sticker-festooned sweater also reminded me of bumper stickers from further back in Israel’s history, which popped up on cars during previous wars, and told the stories of their times.
As a young boy at the time, I don’t remember the Six Day War of 1967. But I know that the sweeping, lightning-fast victory of the Jewish State established Israel’s reputation as a regional powerhouse. And the credit for that achievement was bestowed squarely on the Israel Defense Forces.
Thus, the iconic bumper sticker of those days read: “Kol Hakavod L’Tzahal.” Literally translated: “All honor goes to the Army.” More colloquially, it meant “way to go, Army!”
Many from the religious sector took umbrage at the fact that people were crediting the miraculous triumph solely to the hands of man, without a mention of G-d’s role.
Only six years following, on the holy day of Yom Kippur 50 years ago, Israel was on the receiving end of an agonizing wake-up call. The unprepared IDF was simultaneously attacked from the north and south, and the brutal ensuing military campaign saw the loss of thousands of our men and women.
At that time, there were no cries of “Kol Hakavod L’Tzahal.” Instead, a chastened country embraced the spirit of a new bumper sticker: “Yisrael b’tach b”Hashem” – “the nation of Israel trusts Hashem.” The song by that name, composed by Shlomo Carlebach, became an anthem of the war.
There were no atheists in the foxhole. Many sought out existential meaning in the face of their despair, and the Teshuva (repentance) movement was kicked into high gear.
Fast forward a half century, and the seemingly-indomitable IDF has once again seen its luster tarnished, this time with incomprehensibly catastrophic results. Our homeland is reeling.
Once again, we are hearing mantras similar to Yisrael b’tach b’Hashem. Tens of thousands of soldiers who may have considered themselves detached from religion prior to this war are requesting religious items. People are turning to G-d in prayer, seeking comfort, guidance, and answers. Morale is high, but the personal and national losses have mounted.
We know there are no easy answers. And we know that the answers we are pleading for may be manifest in a victory at the hands of our beloved IDF, but they are aided and orchestrated behind the scenes by the One Above.
The bumper sticker from this war reads: “Yachad, n’natzeach” – “together we will win.”
Together, as a fractured country reunited.
Together, with the help of G-d.