Today marks the 100th day of the start of the war with Gaza, with moving tributes and demonstrations around the Jewish world, particularly in Israel, of course, where 136 Israeli hostages are still being held by Hamas in their terror tunnels. It is also evident that peace is nowhere in sight with the war in Gaza still ongoing, and with Hezbollah continuing to make northern Israel uninhabitable, and near daily skirmishes in the West Bank. Yet with the crisis of chaos being somewhat diminished largely in central Israel because rockets are no longer being fired, Israelis are able to breathe a little more lightly. Perhaps it’s the new normal.
In this lighter environment, Israelis are creating humour. One notable skit is the Hamas Musical, West, the Next Side Story, by Tunnel Productions. As the name implies the skit uses the music and lyrics of West Side Story to make fun of Hamas. It took Mel Brooks 22 years from the end of World War 2 to parody Hitler and the Nazis in The Producers, but parodying Hamas took only 3 months. The sketch features lines like “I want to kill in America” and “I feel pretty” sung and danced by a gay Hamas guy who is shot after his performance. Then there’s the IDF imitation of Friends, the iconic TV series. Apparently , 2 soldiers in the West Bank were on patrol recently when they spotted an abandoned sofa. They got the bright idea to duplicate Friends’ opening montage of soldiers, in uniform and with their weapons, sitting and posing on the sofa, and then dancing with each other while the Friends’ theme song plays. The Judean Hills are clearly visible in the background. It took just minutes to complete.
The use of humour is not fiddling while Rome burns. It is not a callous disregard for what we have suffered. I believe it represents the beginnings of emotionally coming to terms with the existing situation, and in a sense gaining some mastery over the trauma of Oct. 7. As I sit in a sidewalk cafe in Tel Aviv, enjoying the company of my friends and the warmth of the sunshine, I also see in front of me pictures of the hostages posted on a bench, with the words, “Bring them home.” I see the same sign in huge letters on the side of an enormous glass and steel office tower. When I enter the building where my dentist has his office I immediately see an impossible to miss display of a yellow chair, with a large black and white sign behind it that says, “This chair will stay empty until all of them will come home.” Reminders are everywhere. They are not ignored.
And then there are the ubiquitous dog tags that so many people wear around their necks. Intended to look like the dog tags that soldiers wear, the tag reads in Hebrew, “Our hearts are imprisoned in Gaza” and below it in English, “Bring them home now.” Though each of us has a stone of sadness that weighs heavily on our heart, we are determined to live life as fully and as normally as possible. We go to work. Our children go to school. We have Shabbat dinners with our families. We go to concerts and plays. And we bury our dead and mourn them. We are always aware of what befell us on Oct. 7. But we continue relentlessly to live our best lives.
I’m reminded of a sculpture on the Tel Aviv Tayelet (sea promenade) of 2 young people dancing. Above it in Russian and in Hebrew are the words, “We won’t stop dancing.” The sculpture is located in front of where the Dolphinarium, a popular disco once stood. On June 1, 2001 a Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up, killing 21 Israeli teenagers, most of them recent arrivals from the former Soviet Union, and injuring another 132. It’s more than just a commemorative piece of art; it’s a defiance that we will not be broken, an affirmation of the desire for continuity. For survival. It is a refusal to surrender to the forces of evil.
Ben Gurion famously said that “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.” The Hebrew word for test is “nisayon.” The root of the word is “nes”, which means miracle. To be tested and find the ability to transcend horrors, to affirm faith in survival, to continue to live well and passionately – surely these are the miracles to which Ben Gurion referrred. The on duty soldiers in the West Bank could have been ambushed and killed or injured at any moment. But while they still had the energy of life in them they were choosing to laugh and dance joyfully. Perhaps this is the key to the secret of the survival of the Jewish people.