The Sirens

BY RONIT CHAYA JANET

It has been many years since I heard the sirens.

It was in 2014, when I stood at a ceremony in the main street of Ra’anana and watched the faces of soldiers as they were projected on the walls of Yad L’Banim. Face after face of young people who had given their lives so that we could have a state. It was profound, but I cannot compare it to the powerful moment that occurred on the very next day, on the very same road, where we all stood still as a siren wailed. I watched as a young boy got off his bike and bowed his head in respect. The siren spoke to him, whispering the stories of those who had passed and those who had sacrificed. The siren drew to a close, and he rode on.

Just a few months later, on another visit, I heard a different siren, one that woke me from a deep slumber. It shouted: “Wake up! Get to safety! Get the children!” Our hearts pounded to the rhythm of the siren. We stood in hallways, bathrooms and shelters waiting for the “all-clear,” listening to the not-so-gentle booms of the Iron Dome that seemed to say “We’ve got your back.” The siren drew to a close, and we moved on.

This year as I approach Yom HaZikaron, my mind again hears the sirens of remembrance and warning. I see the faces of the slain soldiers, still fresh in our minds and new in their graves. I painfully remember the thousands of mourners carrying the blue and white coffins. I see the tears of mothers and fathers. I hear the eulogies of siblings who never wanted to be alone. I feel the heartbreak of the fiancés who declare that these graves will be their homes.

This year, there are more new faces to remember, their images plastered all over my Facebook feed just days ago. Border Police, soldiers, civilians… all fighting a battle without warning, an enemy with a knife and a battle cry. The sirens of emergency vehicles, the frightening reality of calling to check in with family and friends who were locked down in a school, just minutes from the scene. You thank G-d they are ‘ok’ but in the same breath weep for the father whose last breath protected his child.

As a mother and teacher, I encourage my children and students to walk in the steps of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov in our Holy Land, to go on an Israel program for a few weeks or a year, or even to take the ultimate step onto the tarmac of Ben-Gurion as Israel’s newest oleh. But then I think of the sirens, like the mythological creatures who enticed the sailors off their ships. Yes, these sirens echo in my mind, feeding my fears and doubts about walking the streets of our Holy Land.

But I also hear the reassuring voice of the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks zt”l as he explained how “religions of hope create healthy cultures of responsibility. This empowers us to take risks, engage in long-term projects, and refuse to capitulate in the face of despair. The flames of injustice, violence and oppression are not inevitable. We must refuse to accept the world as it is… We are summoned to the long journey at whose end is redemption.”

Yes, we must heed the sirens; the sirens of warning, remembrance and protection. And we must acknowledge the fear and sadness that they bring. But we must know and remember that they are precursors to another cry, something far more redeeming and healing…

One day.

 

Ronit Chaya Janet is a multi-level educator, working at both Yeshiva College of South Africa and the Academy of Jewish Thought and Learning. She is the former editor of the South African Jewish Observer.

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