Tuvia Book
Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

Yom Hazikaron 2021: Analyzing Alterman’s Iconic Poem, ‘The Silver Platter’

This week Israel is set to pay tribute to the 23,835 casualties of war and terrorism who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.  All give some, but some give all.  As Israel commemorates Yom Hazikaron- (Memorial Day), whose full name is “Day of Remembrance for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism.” One of the most well-known poems written in the Hebrew language, which will be read in memorial services across our country about the price we have paid, and continue to pay, for the Zionist dream, is Natan Alterman’s “The Silver Platter.”  This poem’s title is based on a quote by Israel’s first President,  Chaim Weitzman:

A State is not handed to a people on a Silver platter.
אין מדינה נתנת לעם על מגש של כסף

This opening quote sets the tone for this iconic poem of remembrance.  The classic Zionist idea that the juxtaposition of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) implies that without the sacrifice of the heroic generation of ’48, and the succeeding wars, we would not have a Jewish State.  Alterman seems to imply that this is not the “passive” generation of Bialik’s Kishniev, the “City of the Slaughter,” who fled like scampering mice,” but rather the youth of the “silver platter” generation, who are the “new Jews.”

Memorial Service for fallen soldiers of the Givati Brigade, Mt Herzl, Jerusalem. Photo (c) T. Book, 2021

What is fascinating is that the poem, published in the Hebrew newspaper “Davar” in December 1947, three weeks after the November 29 Partition vote, long before the ultimate end of a war that would result in 6,000 casualties (military and civilian, 1% of the population) as a type of “op-ed” before the establishment of Israel, was that it was not about the fallen in Israel’s wars.  Rather, it was a prediction of the deaths that would occur in future upcoming wars for the freedom of the State of Israel.  In other words, it is not a “post 1948” text, it is a prophetic text. The human cost in fighting for our state will be very high.  The poem does not glorify the dead, but rather mourns the sacrifice that will be made.

 So the land grows still.

Red fades in the sky
Over smoking borders.

Heartsick but breathing, the people greet
The miracle that has no parallel.

The “miracle” referred to here is not in the traditional religious sense of the word, but rather the fact that the “New Jews” did not sit passively and wait for a God-provided miracle but took their destiny in their own hands…they did not mumble “next year in Jerusalem” as Jews had done for generations without tangible results…but rather we “miraculously” returned to Jerusalem/Zion/Israel by physically doing something.

Beneath the moon, they stand and wait,
Facing the dawn in awe and joy;
Then slowly towards the waiting throng
Two step forth – a girl and a boy.

The socialist bent of the “Palmach generation” is emphasized here with the dual heroes a “girl and boy.” No longer is the white-haired, long-bearded Rabbi the “hero.”

Clad for work and for war, heavy shod and still,
Up the winding path they make their way,
Their clothes unchanged, still soiled with the grime
Of the battle-filled night and the toilsome day.

The “work and war” imagery emphasizes the dual nature of Israeli society not just a militaristic society, rather one that emphasizes “Jewish labour” in building up the land.

Weary past telling, strangers to sleep,
But wearing their youth like dew in their hair,
Dumb they approach. – Are they living or dead?
Who knows, as they stand unmoving there.

Tear-stained, wondering, the people ask,
“Who are you?” – softly reply the two,
“We are the silver platter, on which
The Jewish State is handed you!”

In shadow they fall when their tale is told –
The rest let Israel’s story unfold.

The power of this poem is that it is addressing the reader across the generation gap.  Not just those of 1947 but the questions and challenges are just as relevant in 2021.  They, the “young metaphorical boy and girl” fall into the shadows as their “job has been done.” It is now up to the reader and the next generation to make sure that the “rest of Israel’s story unfold.”  It as almost as if the 1948 generation (and all succeeding generations of the fallen) are saying: “Do not let our sacrifices be in vain.  You must live for us.  You must live our dream!״

With their death, they gave us life-  במותם ציוו לנו את החיים

Dr. Tuvia Book is the author of “For the Sake of Zion, A Curriculum of Israel Education” (Koren, 2017).   His forthcoming book, Jewish Journeys, on the Second Temple Period,  will be published by Koren this year.  He also is a  Ministry of Tourism licensed Tour Guide, Jewish educator and a Judaica artist.  www.tuviabook.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He is a Senior Editor and Teaching Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. Tuvia is the author and illustrator the internationally acclaimed Israel education curriculum; "For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Studies" (Fifth edition, Koren 2017), and "Moral Dilemmas of the Modern Israeli Soldier" (Rama, 2011) and has a doctorate in Israel Education. His latest book, "Jewish Journeys, The Second Temple Period to the Bar Kokhba Revolt – 536 BCE-136 CE," will be published by Koren this year.
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