The Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, a veteran of four wars including World War II, wrote “A man has no time in his life… to have a season for every purpose… A man needs to hate and love at the same moment, with the same eyes to cry and to laugh, with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them, to make love in war and war in love.”
Amichai’s powerful and particularly Israeli perspective resonates with me especially on this Veteran’s day. As we take time aside to mindful of the courage and sacrifices made by those who serve and have served to defend the United States, I realize that in America with its vast size, volunteer military and wars that often seems light-years away, there are many who take for granted the distance between ourselves and what is faced by those who are honored. But today, like yesterday, will be another day in Israel without this illusion.
On Monday two Israelis were stabbed to death by terrorists, four hours and 50 miles apart. The first victim, Almog Shiloni was a 20-year old soldier who was attacked at a train station in Tel Aviv. The second, Dalia Lemkus was a 26-year old woman from the settlement of Tekoa who was among those attacked by a Palestinian who plowed into a barrier outside of the entrance of nearby Alon Shevut. Dalia had survived a terrorist attack seven years ago, headed Tekoa’s charitable organization Yad Sarah and had just earned a degree as an occupational therapist. Almog was about to marry his girlfriend Noy. In the spirit of Amichai’s words, Almog and Dalia were not granted a time for every purpose. Each season can be one of joy or sorrow at any moment. And their murders underscore that there is no true separation between civilian and soldier, homefront and frontlines, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or the West Bank.
While these tragedies and the increased violence in Jerusalem of the past few days serve to emphasize the close quarters at which Israelis contend with murderous violence, Amichai’s words also remind us of the great paradox that such close quarters also strip Israel of the luxury of being distant from the lives and fortunes of Palestinians. The same Alon Shevut where Dalia Lemkus was attacked is the village of Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger who came to our community with his neighbor Ali Abu Awaad to talk about peace. Tekoa, where Dalia lived and is now buried was the home of Rabbi Menachem Froman, the man who preached that religious connection to the land could unite and inspire Jews and Muslims to live together, rather than be a wedge that divided us.
Israel marks its Day of Remembrance, Yom HaZikkaron, and Day of Independence, Yom HaAtzmaut on consecutive days. Almost no family is untouched and no Israeli is unaware of how one is interlinked with the other.
In America we commemorate and celebrate Veterans Day at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month — the occasion of the Armistice that ended the First World War, whose most common name now mocks its earlier appellation as the War to End All Wars.
So how can we honor those who live with the reality of war at the same time as we renew this day’s promise of peace?
Again it is Amichai who shows the way: The same hands that throw stones must be the ones to gather them. Not just this day, but every season must both be a time to recognize the courage and self-sacrifice of those who serve and those who live in the line of fire and at the same time, each day must be an occasion for seeking and pursuing peace.
May the memories of Dalia Lemkus and Almog Shiloni be a blessing. May comfort for those who are bereft and healing of wholeness for those who are wounded or broken.
With gratitude to those who serve this country and the state of Israel and with prayers for peace for all,