vendredi, avril 01, 2005

Adjusting Sights

this is the comment I posted to the post that was called

a story that a friend sent me... I wonder if it's true and if it is.. I kind of like it, but I'm not sure why

I thinkI should have made it it's own posting, but I didn't think of it at the time. So I just now moved most of it and... must confess. honestly, I wrote it approximately one year ago... my thoughts may have changed, but I found it as I was cleaning out my computer of useless old essays and decided it was worth sharing to see if I got any comments.
*******************************************voila, here it is, a blast from the past.

Life … is such a choice. Carrie Wilson Gordon, a mentor and teacher from Princeton-in-Asia, who died in September 2003 from cancer, told us often to celebrate life every day that we could. I thought about her injunction a lot lately since the memorial service at the end of January 2004. Here I am April 24, 2004 just having seen the movie Adjusting Sights based on the true book by Rav Chaim Sabato -Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshivat Hesder in Ma’ale Adumim. I am… so torn, ripped up and heartbroken. Anyone who has watched a movie with me before knows how I take a story, the images, the thoughts, the emotions, and the sounds, --all of it into my heart and mind and how a movie becomes a part of me. I know, because of the way that healing occurs that I have to express everything I thought and felt about this movie here and now so that I can walk away without my hands shaking, without my legs feeling weak, and my stomach feeling all like a knotted pit. Somehow I’m hoping also, but I know that telling won’t make it so I can walk away without my heart torn between wailing and wanting desperately to thrive. The injunction from having to sustain our nation –Am Yisrael- through wars…is that we must live fiercely with joy in spite of all the pain. This is when I think about the sign posted in front of the Dolphinarium. “We won’t stop dancing.” How can we? Fighting and war is a fact of life in Eretz Israel. What is the meaning of a quiet, funny, sweet boy burning to death in a tank? This is a miserable death that I cannot even imagine feeling. What does one think about in those terrible moments? Do you think of your family? Of your friend? Of God? Do you think how you are fighting to save a homeland for all Jews of the world? Do you think of not having put on tefillin that day, because you’ve been fighting all this time? Do you think of remembering to say Sh’ma? I don’t know and I can’t possibly imagine. I know that at one point in the movie –when shnayim bet finally move out of their tent- I cried and thought that if I had just been a better Jew earlier today during Shabbat and been able to live that perfect and completely holy Shabbat where I could bring moshiach then I could change the world and erase such pain from our nation.

I don't know what one feels standing outside the tank hearing them call your name.. “Meir! Meir, save us! Meir!” and then to hear their agonized screams as they burn alive and being afraid to go and save them because they are on fire and you are afraid of the fire --me, just watching this …my hands shook, my legs shook, I felt weak and sick in my stomach, even now I feel this way. Watching it was terrible; I cried and shook and cried and shook. The sense of horror and the knowledge that this is really what happens sometimes in a war. I thought of Aryeh, who is a tankist. I thought of him. I thought of the love of the tanks and the terrible ways to die in a tank –how strange this contrast is. I remember at Latrun, seeing the tanks, climbing on them and then, stopping as I remembered what machine this was –the destruction it caused as flaming metal traps of death and as sources of such death to Egyptians in the 6 Day War, Jordanians in the War of Independence, and Syrians in the Yom Kippur War. I remember walking past the memorial wall at the Latrun tank memorial and reading the names…and seeing the soldiers put on their berets in respect for the dead. So many names. Each one a person. Latrun itself sparked such pain, because I’d read about the fighting there, seeing it was chilling.

At one point, I thought to myself… I wish I knew how people survive the pain... maybe other people just don't feel pain in this all-consuming fashion? I doubt it, so there must be something that redeems this incredible toll of life. Does it redeem us to know how someone we loved died? Even if instead of the reassurance that it was for something heroic like the Eitan at Ammunition Hill who gave his life to allow the troops in the trenches to go further in towards the bunkers or that maybe there was some purpose to his death which might make it good –whatever trick in the mind it takes to believe that death is good--, what if we hear that it was senseless and terrible? I am reminded of the mothers of the Argentinean Jews who were abducted, raped, tortured and then murdered by the Argentinean police twenty some years ago. They did nothing wrong, except be Jews. Some were watching TV. Others were at work. A handful of these young victims were in bed sleeping. Today still some of the mothers protest, holding up signs asking for the bodies back. Some mothers ended up in psychiatric wards because the pain of surviving the camps in the Holocaust only to immigrate to another continent, have children against the odds that malnutrition in the camps has ruined your reproductive system, and have them be killed in Argentina is too horrific to be able to live happily with oneself. When you know that your son died because his fellow tank crewmembers were too afraid of the fire to go in and get him out and that he burned to death shouting for someone to rescue him? Is there any release of the anxiety and sorrow or is it just more pain? For me, I’m not there, but I just feel deep pain. The only saving factor I can think of is that you hope or you believe that the person can live on in you... whatever you are friend, family, parent, or coworker -- in your actions, in your thoughts, in your heart. It is the only thing we can DO to honor them and their memory and our faith in Hashem and His plan to bring Am Yisrael out of galut. The need for action is tremendous, because we search for ways to release the pain. So for this, maybe one is inspired to leave Eretz Yisrael for one year to try to instill love of Israel and to fire up people to make aliyah, because Israel needs the people and needs the strength and needs to thrive. Maybe it’s because you believe that you can hasten the coming of the Moshiach if you bring more and more people until all the Jews are in Eretz Israel. I can only speculate and feel what the answer is.

–In the movie, after the crew sees others being killed, they escape and hide behind a pile of stones. One of the tankists is offered water from a canteen and he says the bracha over the water... Can you imagine reaffirming your faith in Hashem like that after you’ve seen people you know die? People whom you may have trained with, people who might have been your friends had you had time to get to know them, people who are just people like you and me dying everywhere around you. Maybe even you will die before the day is over? Still he says a bracha. God who created us and everything we have… even in the face of adversity and pain, I will open my mouth to thank you. When we share our pain and comfort each other, is it just to learn compassion or is there something more?

When I think about how Yoel had to hear about David’s death... I know there is release in knowing… but still to know is pain itself… because we can all imagine that to burn alive in a tank is a terrible death--can there be meaning in this? and what about the man who lives with the knowledge that they called his name he got out and they were burning and he was afraid of the fire and so he didn't dare to go in and save them--how much anguish he lives much pain he knows for he feels his guilt... that he is alive and not them --that he didn't save them--but he also knows that his living is a gift from Hashem that somehow Divine Will causes him to live and that it is a blessing, but a strange and terribly painful blessing. Because we are Jews and we live in Israel, we fight together. The irony is that so many didn’t even know each other... it was just chaotically a mixture of a commander, a gunner, a loader and a driver. These guys fought for Israel, for us, for our land, for a homeland for all Jews, and for their lives, because they had to.

Because I have such a capacity to feel and be sensitive, I imagine and sense what it must be like to be the mother, and have the little girls who ask why Abba isn’t coming home. It’s also terrible to be the one to go to the family and to tell about the death of the commander and to wonder why you are alive and not him? In that moment though, there is a tremendous understanding that life is so short and that living is so precious, how can we squander it at all? It is either this introspective approach or else the hedonistic approach of the ones who only make sexuality and material things their lives to cope, because what sense can we make out of it?

Because I am not able to be desensitized and closed off from it, I feel pain from knowing that a parent who has to tell children that the father or the mother isn’t coming home, not now, not tomorrow, not ever, has to face his or her own pain plus the pain of knowing she disappoints her children, she is letting them down in some twisted way, that she somehow have been party to something terrible that has happened to their children who are now less one parent. If you have any sense about the pain that the loss causes, you can hardly bare to forgive yourself for this. And yet you must, because you have your own pain to deal with in addition to theirs and you have to keep living somehow. You have to live and live strongly like a macho man in order to honor the memory of the dead and yet somehow you have to be happy and thrive, meaning that someday you confront your feelings and thoughts. Not just to live or survive… but instead our goal is to thrive in spite of it all… Thriving though when you have so much pain to absorb, to deal with, to make sense of… That’s a terrible part of the pain.. you can cover the anguish up and busy yourself, but at some point you know there is a tremendous weight that you have to come to terms with, and being human, we all want to know.. what does it mean? What does it mean to die burned in a tank, amidst chaos, without the means to help yourself and without anyone to help you, or simply… what does it mean to forgive the person who was too scared of the fire and too scared of being burned that he didn’t go to rescue your beloved ones? There’s a point you know in your heart that you are angry at the apparent injustice, why does he live and not your beloved? What cruel twist caused your loved one to die? And yet, you know that you cannot blame this man who didn’t rescue your beloved…because just as you feel relief when you hear someone else died rather than your beloved ones when you hear of deaths, and just as I am relieved that most of my friends in Israel are jobnik-im and less likely to see dangerous combat, I feel guilty, because someone else’s beloved friends and relatives are dying instead. How can I be happy that it wasn’t one of those people who are part of the fabric of my life? When I know that this void hurts someone else instead. Therefore, I know I cannot hold the guy who didn’t rescue my beloved treasured friend from the fire too harshly to blame, because what he did.. what .. anyone even myself I might have done too. I cannot be uncompromisingly harsh on this man, because everywhere if I search my own soul, I do not find infinite courage and fearlessness. I know in my heart that those who love him rejoice that he is not burned, that even he rejoices inwardly despite the guilt that he is not burned or dead. At one point in the movie I thought to myself, “stop! Stop! don’t make friends with any more Israelis. You will only let more pain into your life! What if bli ayin hara, chas v’shalom, one of them is lost? No more friends.” It would hurt too greatly. Yet I forge on, loving people and continuing to make new friends. I just wanted in that moment to protect myself in that moment of sheer and deep pain. It is all human. We are like this, because we are human. How can I not forgive this person? Is forgiving him sanctioning the death of my loved one though? Ah, so complicated and conflicting, so painful and yet we know that the compass leads us towards compassion. In the end, too, then it leads us to understand that we must hold fast to faith in Hashem, that faith in God honors life and honors ourselves, honors even our dead ones. We are only human and we are not all-knowing nor all-powerful.

What a bitter commentary that the concrete result of American aid is this windbreaker the commander Haggai hands to Yoel? That it is just one and that it is a lame comfort and a lame apology for everything the regiment suffered and the historian did not.

I know it is from the movie, but I also know how far reaching this pain goes into things.. my fears of loving people, my fears of doing something new that might be potentially dangerous, my fears of taking on an identity that is so shatteringly difficult as a Jew. and as someone who loves Israel but has faced up tonight to the great American dilemma of comfort versus ideology -- will I really be willing to subject my child and myself to the fears of not knowing that I can protect my kids from most terrible dangers living in Israel? Will I choose to do the easier thing by raising him here in the US? This is what aliyah means? it means if I have a son that my son may go into war, and that I choose this? am I choosing this kind of pain? So this rakes it fresh into the face, so as a result in reaction…maybe I will never make aliyah then? maybe for this reason and this alone I will not put my child into Tzioni schools and I will raise him like I know others who are raised to be against the state of Israel and against the senseless slaughter of Jews against crazy wicked Arabs. BUT! I know in my core that I love Israel with a passion fierce and strong when I was there. I left Israel with this same passion. I loved Eretz Israel without having an explanation why and this is how I knew that come what may I was a Jew. When I saw the kotel and cried, thinking to myself if I had to die to protect this, that I would. But I saw then when we drove past the burned out tanks on the side of the road, that I cried then too because I thought of the men and women burned in them and I knew then that it was a terrible thing to have to choose between my love for our homeland for our country and my fear of this pain.. my need for safety of course, because this is who I am. It is my nature to see the pain and to hold it rather than to run away I could have chosen to run away and to not be a Jew. I chose instead to accept that this pain would be part of my life and that I would hold it... and hold my faith that "God is my strength and my song..." tehilllim 118:14. So I have to sing and I have to reaffirm that Hashem is one and is ours, because I have that kind of courage in me. It is the courage that comes from having such an ability to feel this stuff down to my core being… my very existence is shaken and strengthened by this emotional experience of being with the movie in my mind and my heart…. for the memory of those Jews who lost their lives for us to have an Israel with its current borders, Jews who were brave enough to live in our land, and who went to serve rather than hiding out, who faced their cowardly side and saw how thankful they were to be alive and not to be the ones burned and still tried to thrive even with the complexity of that pain. It is humbling and powerful