Sunday, May 04, 2014

Yom Hazikaron 5774/2014 - "Children of Winter '73"

Yom Hazikaron in Israel is a day which has a distinctive soundtrack; some speak of it as a "secular prayerbook." It is a prayerbook, because these songs  form a liturgy of sorts; always the same sombre songs. After a while, these hallowed cultural milestones - beautiful songs, the best of Israeli poetry, which speak of memory, loss, longing, friendship, love, and yes, death in war - take on a sanctity and reverence that is unequaled in Israeli society. The songs that are played on TV, on the radio, at ceremonies in schools and public squares. They are a musical canon, starting with  poetry and tunes of pre-State Israel, on to the War of Independence and all the wars, until today. 

I recall, when I was a new Oleh, that I visited my cousin's house one motzaei shabbat. He was listening to the news as I entered the house. He turned off the radio and said: "Someone must have been killed in Lebanon." His wife replied: "Did they announce it on the news?" He said: "No! But they wouldn't play that song after the news unless someone had been killed." Sure enough, later that evening, the newscaster announced that two soldiers had been killed.

These songs are a code, a language that we imbibe when we live here.

One incredible song, that brings me to tears virtually any time I hear it is the song called הילדים של חורף י73. Listen to it here. Hebrew words are here, English here.

We are the children of winter 1973.
You dreamt us first at dawn at the end of the battles,
You were tired men that thanked their good luck,
You were worried young women and you wanted so much to love,
When you conceived us with love in winter 1973,
You wanted to your bodies to be full with that which the war had destroyed.

And when we were born the country was wounded and sad,
You looked at us you hugged us you were trying to find comfort,
When we were born the elders blessed with tears in their eyes,
They said:" we wish those kids will not have to go to the army",
And your faces in the old picture prove,
That you said it form the bottom of your hearts,
When you promised to do every thing for us,
To turn a foe into a friend.

You promised a dove,
an olive tree leaf,
you promised peace
You promised spring at home and blossoms
You promised to fulfill promises, you promised a dove

We are the children of winter 1973
We grew up, and are now in the army, holding our rifle,
Helmet on our heads
We know how to make love to laugh and cry,
We are men we are women,
and we too dream about babies.

This is why we will not pressure nor will we demand,
And we will not threaten!
When we were young you said "promises need to be kept".
If strength is what you need, we will give it, 
We will not hold back
We just wanted to whisper
We are the children of that winter in the year 1973

You promised a dove,
an olive tree leaf,
you promised peace
You promised spring at home and blossoms
You promised to fulfill promises,
you promised a dove

So what is this song about? It was written in 1994 by Shmuel Hasfari, one of the veterans of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a man who lost his best friend in that war. He was at the time working with the army's musical troupe - "lahakat hanachal" and he looked at his soldiers and realized that they were the same age that he had been when he was called to battle in 1973. He sat down and wrote the song.

To fully understand it, let me refer to another song... Yehoram Gaon's song "Ani mavtiah lach". It was a song born in 1973 and extremely popular. In that song, Yehoram Gaon promises his little girl, in the name of all the soldiers who fought, that "This will be the last war". "Children of Winter 1973" is a response of sorts to that song.

Who are the "Children of Winter 1973"? These are the kids born after the Yom Kippur War, a campaign in which Israel suffered a huge death toll, but possibly more significantly, a war that inflicted a tremendous knock to Israeli morale. These are the children conceived by parents and raised in a society still hurting, humiliated and wounded from the war. And  their birth brought the hope of regeneration, the promise of new life after the horrible losses of the war. Grandparents hoped that these kids would never go to war; that there would be peace. Parents told their kids that they would grow up in a different era. But the children conceived in the winter of 1973 grow up and find themselves in a country still at war, still in the army, and peace was far off. In the song, they challenge their parents naive optimism. They express their willingness to fight and defend our country. But they suggest that parents should be more careful with their optimistic promises. We should be cautious before we assure the next generation that we will bring them peace.

Some in the Israeli public viewed this song as arrogant, or anti military. I see it as a powerful story of the realism that is modern Israel. I recall, in my child, a storybook in which Yoni and Mustafa join hands and march into a rainbow decorated future. Those books don't exist today. This is a sobering song, because it suggests that war is our reality for the time being; that many generations will still need to fight in order to ensure that the future will eventually bring peace. And as the song says, "If strength is what you need, we will give it, We will not hold back." The children/adults in the song are people who serve in the military and are willing to pay the price, but they are also in a space in which they don't suffer from the delusion that there is going to be an imminent solution to Israel's conflicted reality.

If this song was appropriate for 1994 when it was written, then it is all the more apt for Yom Hazikaron 2014.