David Debow

Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree

The lone oak in Gush Etzion waits for her children to return.
The Lone Oak in Gush Etzion waits for her children to return.

This 1973 pop hit by two Jewish song writers has lent inspiration to political revolutions in the Philippines and Hong Kong; it has brought succor to hostages, hostage families and nations in crisis. The symbol comes from folklore which tells of young women tying yellow handkerchiefs and yellow ribbons to keep faith with their far away lovers serving time in the military, in prison, or worse. I woke up this morning to find a yellow ribbon tied to my car and understood its message continues to inspire those waiting for our present hostages cruelly ripped from their homes by Hamas. Then I listened to the song once more. It succeeded, as it always does, to make me cry. I also realized that some of those parading yellow ribbons in Kikar Hachatufim – Hostage Square may have lost something in translation.

A man sings about coming home after being away for three years and he is unsure whether his lover still wants him. He gives his lover a sign, and then looks to see if indeed there is a home worth coming back to. If not, he’ll just stay on the bus, forget about us, and take the blame. The song is about keeping faith; it’s about love that endures through hardships and obstacles and over time. It is not about busting her lover out of prison. A few people are still yelling about bringing home the hostages NOW, in a way reminiscent of demanding Peace NOW. It is an unfortunate but sobering reality to learn that the things we might do now to bring home hostages, make peace in the foreseeable future much more unlikely. Israel has declared three important complimentary but not wholly commensurate goals for this war: defeat Hamas, return security to the residents of the south and bring home the hostages. It is not possible to do all three with equal success and Israel must prioritize. I would add that Israel can’t reduce Gazan civilian casualties and reduce IDF, Israeli fighting men and women casualties at the same time. Here again we must prioritize. Who do we love more?

The deluge is coming, as IDF leaflets announced to the people of Gaza, and it is meant to carry away wrong-doers. But everyone understands that a flood carries away much more. Flooding tunnels in order to drown Hamas will likely drown others down there with them. Now is the time to tie a ribbon around the Ole Oak Tree. So that the whole damn bus understands that this is an act of love – love of the future, love of the children of Israel, love of a people who need and deserve long-lasting, sustainable peace far into the future, a future without Hamas. It’s not that we don’t love the hostages – but that some of them are surely thinking, and some of the families are clearly saying, for the sake of love, put the children of the future first.

Just outside my village is a grand ole oak tree and I have tied a yellow ribbon around it. I live in Alon Shvut, the “Oak of Return,” in the Judean Hills surrounded by lots of Arabs. Some appreciate and enjoy my presence and together we have built a thriving economy that benefits all. Others are watching to see if, how and when, these Jews and their oak trees can be uprooted forever. They are testing to see just how much of my present comfort, security, and wealth I am willing to sacrifice for the future. I am proud of the way my people, my children, my students have answered that test in blood and treasure and what we are doing to make this a safer, better place to live. I am proud of my government and my army that, following a catastrophic failure, are threading a difficult needle through competing priorities to the best possible outcome. So here we are, for those that are cheering and those that are not, tying a hundred yellow ribbons around an oak tree that waited 2000 years for us to come home.

About the Author
David Debow was raised in a sweet Jewish home in suburban Toronto and has always followed a spiritual path. He studied at Yeshiva University, Yeshivat HaMivtar and five years at Yeshivat Har Etzion. He taught in Cleveland, Ohio and has spent the past decade and a half creating and directing Midreshet Emunah v'Omanut - a unique Seminary dedicated to integrating Torah and the Arts. After sending off the final cohort of EVO students at the end of 5782 David spends his time at home, playing with his children and grandchildren while trying to edit Jewish publications for Koren.
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