Triggers, those fleeting moments when a sound, a smell, a word reminds us of a happy or sad time. Living in Israel, my wife and I are triggered daily with memories of our youngest son in uniform and soldiers everywhere now. He was taken by demons and Dybbuks three years ago. We smile when we see a soldier with his girlfriend or boyfriend and an M-16 slung over their shoulder. Or, we hear the breaking news stories about the murders of young kidnapped hostages by Hamas captors and their bodies left alone and unfound for multiple days we wince and tear up. It was four days before his brother found our boy’s body.
We are triggered by the spirit of the Mom of a Hamas-taken hostage killed by “friendly fire;” she forgives the soldiers while demonstrating grace and empathy. We think about our youngest son. He was a sergeant in the IDF. We wonder if the young man might have gone on with his life to become a biochemist, construction worker, songwriter, and author like ours? Jews say the memorial prayer for a year after a parent or sibling dies because their faces and voices fade with time. You never forget a lost child, so Kaddish is 30 days old; his face does fade, and we hear his laugh even now. His smile lasts forever.
I picked up a book last week by Nechemia J. Peres and Ilan Greenfield. My Israel: Seventy Faces of the Land (Gefen Publishing House, 2023, 213 pages). It triggers memories of the old land of Israel we came to know and love before Black Sabbath, October 7th. It is a beautiful picture book and stories from 70 individual Israelis sharing “what they consider to be My Israel.”
They are memory keepers focusing on the land, not the politics, on the vibrant life, not the dissension endemic in a vibrant democracy, on the peace in rural Israel, not the constant din of war and terrorist attacks at bus stops and synagogues. When there are no rocket attacks from Gaza or raids into the West Bank. Pictures and their 70 stories about the land and its olive trees, monuments, parks, farms, and urban development settle the soul in days of anguish.
Peres makes a prophetic observation in the Preface about the collection: “It is a story of human spirit… We had neither mountains nor wide rivers that could slow down potential invaders.” Only people rising to the heights of storybook heroes, only their keen minds and willpower kept invading barbarians at bay. Israeli identities are nourished by diversity, as one contributor reports, who are Black and white and brown, “Druze, soldier, intelligence agent, IDF officer, businessman, and more. In every role…” comprise this country.
Now, death triggers us every day. We pretend everything is ok. We try to “thrive and grow strong, from one generation to another,” as Peres claims we must. Hope is in the triggers of a hostage’s widow who births and coddles a newborn and the sweet face of a blond four-year-old hostage returning to friends at school after the barbarians kidnapped her for trade. I linger over the full-page picture of children at Bustan Thom’s Orchard slugging a stone wheel to crush pomegranate seeds for juice on a summer desert day.
The book is an escape from the grisliness of daily life. Our building rumbles, closed doors shiver and windows shake when warning sirens blare and the Iron Dome intercepts Hamas rockets above. Blast waves from mass explosions in Gaza fly across miles of land and hit our building. My Israel reminds me of what living was like. The book inspires us to think about what could be for us and our neighbors again. The book provides moments of sanctuary and should be read during wartime to keep one’s triggers from unhinging our minds.
Dr. Harold Goldmeier teaches American Politics at Touro College Jerusalem. He is a business industrial consultant, writer for Seeking Alpha and author of Healthcare Insights: Better Care, Better Business available on Amazon.