I never know what to write on this Shabbat between Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, Remembrance Day for the dead in Israel’s wars, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Seventy-five years have passed since the bitter battle for Jerusalem so vividly recalled by my father, whose Yahrzeit falls this week.
And this weekend also brings Earth Day, founded in 1970 to inspire love and protection for our planet, which will involve a billion people in thousands of local and global activities. I get notices about it from all around the world, from organisations Jewish, religious, secular and practical every day.
I’ve written my share of difficult things this week (links below). So instead, I’m going to write about love, – love of the earth and its beauty, but as felt by holocaust survivors, and those who’ve struggled for Israel’s land and soul, then and now.
These are novelist Aharon Appelfeld’s memories of his grandparents in rural Bukhovina, before all his family perished, and he, just a child, fled:
The walk to the synagogue is long and full of wonders. A horse stands in astonishment… Not far from them a foal is rolling on the grass. There is astonishment in the dozens of pairs of eyes of the horses, sheep, and goats who are all following the foal’s movements, happy that it’s back on its feet. Grandfather walks in silence, but his silence is not frightening. [In the synagogue] the prayers are conducted in whispers. This is the home of God and people come here in order to sense His presence… (The Story of a Life, p. 9 -10)
This is Gerda Weissman-Klein, writing of her hometown Bielitz in 1940, before she lost everything:
What a lovely sunny morning it was! The buttercups were out, and there were violets down in the moist part of the garden near the pond, along with lilies-of-the-valley. On the afternoon of my birthday a warm, scented rain, so typical of May, fell…(All But My Life, p. 43)
Meanwhile in Mandate Palestine my Great-Uncle Alfred, who would lose his life in ’48, wrote after a holiday in 1943:
We saw another part of our beautiful countryside, the whole strip of land along the coast is like one flowering, fertile garden. If they let us work in peace and quiet…we’d soon have one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
Evidently the trees, lovingly planted by early pioneers as described in the famous poem by Rachel, had taken root and offered shade:
I have not sung to you, my land / or glorified your name
With deeds of valour, the spoils of battle.
There’s just a tree my hands have planted / by the Jordan’s quiet banks,
A path my feet have trod / across your fields. (El Artsi)
Then here, in 2006, is David Shulman, originally from the States and drawn to Israel through love of the country, after numerous vigils in the hills alongside Palestinian shepherds:
What is real is this moment, these people, the sliver of moon in the summer sky, the Passsiflora tree in the courtyard, the crimson wine, the inevitable sweetness of confusion, the musical murmur of the words, and the profound, ironic happiness of doing what is right in circumstances of rooted, inherent, unresolvable ambiguity…(Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine, p. 212)
Whoever we are, whatever our views and allegiances, may we work for love of this world and love of life.