Saturday, May 16, 2015

On completing Creation: on the 48th anniversary of liberating Jerusalem

It's the evening of 28th of Iyar, the Hebrew date of the Battle of Jerusalem in June 1967 on which the IDF captured the Old City of Jerusalem from the Jordanians (June 7th 1967).

In my study of the Bible I recently passed the chapters in the Book of Kings relating the story of King Solomon, and how he built the (first) Temple in Jerusalem. After a long and detailed description of the construction, and just before telling about Solomon's prayer to God upon opening the Temple, there's one of those many verses which contain more in the original Hebrew than in the translations: ותשלם כל המלאכה, Vatishlam kol hamelacha, When all the work was finished. (Kings 1 chapter 7 verse 49). The modern Daat Mikrah interpretation of the Bible points out the relationship between the word Vatishlam and shalem - became complete and complete, and the name Shlomo (the original of Solomon). It then brings an interesting Tana'itic comment, according to which it was not the construction of the Temple which was completed, but ALL the work. By completing the construction of the Temple, Shomo had completed the divine project of creation.

Historian that I am, I found this commentary particularly poignant. The Tanaim lived after the destruction not only of Solomon's Temple, but also after the destruction of the 2nd one; actually, they lived shortly after that second destruction, and in the world created by the wars against the Romans. Their world was anything but complete. Yet there it is, a theological statement that completion of the construction of Solomon's Temple had completed Creation.

This interpretation came to mind when I then read Yossie Klein Halevi's
Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation. Klein Halevi tells the story of the group of young reserve paratroopers who fought in Jerusalem in June 1967, and were the first to reach the Temple Mount and then the Kotel, the Western Wall. In a typical Israeli twist, it turns out that the small group of a few hundred young men included figures that were to be household names in Israel for decades, but were spread all over the map. Left-wing kibbutzniks such as Arik Achmon and Avital Geva, who grew up to be a founder of Israel's free-market economy and a kibbutznik artist, and both members of the peace camp; Yoel Bin Nun, Hanan Porat and Yisrael Harel, three very different leaders of the settler movement, Udi Adiv, a kibbutznik who spent years in an Israeli jail after being convicted of spying for Syria, and Meir Ariel, a maverick songwriter who fit into no-one's pigeonhole at any time until his death in 1999.

Following Yoel Bin Nun onto the Temple Mount on that historic morning after a night of battle, Klein Halevi tells how the event seemed to be the end of history, the culmination of Jewish history. As close as one can imagine to a Vatishlam kol hamelacha moment. Yet the book itself was published in 2013, and most of it is a recounting of the complications the young men lived through since that historic moment. If the morning of June 7th 1967 could have seemed like the happy ending to Jewish history, it certainly doesn't look like it today, 48 years later. History continues with a vengeance.

Unless you take the perspective of those post-destruction Tanaim looking back 1,200 years, not a mere 48.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mishehu Pa'am, Someone Once

In the coming months you'll be hearing even more than previously about nationalist, chauvinist, nigh-fascist and of course extreme far-right Israel and its ghastly government and policies. Since I'm forbidden to deal with overtly poitical issues, I won't be required to pontificate about any or it. To be honest, I don't even expect to spend much time listening to the cacaphony, nor worrying about it. I'm too busy, at work and in life, and am slowly weaning myself from decades of political junkie-ism. It's not that I no longer care, but I'm learning to control my need for a permanent stream of poitical data. Better to wait a bit and think, rather than inbibe limitless quantities.

(Followers of my Twitter account will have noticed that I'm much less active than previously. About two months ago I experimentally deleted it from by mobile phone, and have never looked back.)

So here's an installment in the Shirim Ivri'im thread that was once popular on this blog. (Explanation here and here). I present it because it's an interesting shir, but mostly because it's from one of the many parts of Israeli life which aren't about the stuff you get from the media.

Ivri Lider Is a talented and popular writer and preformer of Hebrew songs. Here's his website. The piece is called Mishehu Pa'am, Someone once. It has nine stanzas, eight of which begin with the line Mishehu pa'am ahav oti kacha, which seems a straightforward sentence until you look closely. It means someone once loved me this way. Or perhaps loved me as I am. Or loved me in the way I'm about to tell. Or even, possibly, someone once loved me in spite of (our difference in age, or our incompatability, or the sheer recklesness of it all, or...)

Not a bad trick, to have more than seven or eight possible meanings to a three-word half-sentence. Upon reflection, even the first unequivoal two words, Mishehu paam, aren't that unequivocal. They mean a man once loved me, a woman (the gender formultion is clear). Or do they? Lider is unabashed about his homosexuality, and his voice is a bit feminine. So who is he really talking about?

The first seven stanzas describe the evolving relationship they once had, in which the un-named Someone pursued Me intensely and in spite of all obstacles, and it was nice, and powerful, and wonderful, and complicated, and painful. The eighth stanza says "so somone once left me kacha and got on a plane and went to live his full life elsewhere". Which brings us to the final, subdued and sad stanza, about someone who once loved me kacha and played me Mozart from old records, but I wasn't listening to the music...

Now watch the official Youtube version. It has been watched two and a half million times, mostly by Hebrew spearkers I assume, so the number is all the more impressive, though it really does speak for itself in a universal language. And remind yourself how silly those media reports are, how narrow-minded and blinkered.