We Did Not Get This One Wrong

by Rabbinical Student Alana Alpert

[The Hebrew College community has a tradition of listening to the reflections of students studying in Israel during Yom HaZikaron/Yom HaAtzmaut commemorations. A version of this piece was shared this year]

As I left the alternative Yom HaZikaron (“Israeli Memorial Day”) ceremony organized by Combatants for Peace I knew there was only one thing I wanted to say to my community:

We did not get this one wrong.

Last year on Yom HaZikaron, after a deep and thoughtful process, we offered the following framing: our kavanah (“intention”) is to open up our communal remembrance to include losses on all sides of the conflict in Israel/Palestine. We encountered resistance from inside and outside the community. Inside the community, we encountered mostly “this is challenging for me”, which is more than fair. What came from the outside was of a much different nature.

There are those who want us to feel ashamed for opening our hearts, widening our circle of compassion. They want us to feel we are so irresponsibly out of touch with Israeli society that we better just shut-up and do what we’re told.

But when I left more than 1000 people at the port in Tel Aviv tonight, who spent the evening hearing stories of tremendous suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians, I knew with my whole being what I had known in my heart to be true:

We did not get this one wrong.

When I say that we did not get this one wrong, I am not saying that we got it right – that this is the only way to mark this day. What I’m saying is that last year we mirrored the courage of many of our brothers and sisters in Israel.

On the bus back to Jerusalem I ran into Yael, an Israeli Hebrew Union College student I study with this year. She has been coming to this ceremony for a few years. She explained that after going to a Yom HaZikaron like this you can never go back, and that it grows each year. I asked her if it was treyf, if she was afraid to mention to friends or family that she was going. She said not at all. When I told her we got in trouble for our kavanah last year she was surprised. She said, “that’s what Jewish communities like ours do: reinvent, renew, reclaim.”

I spent tonight with the best of Israeli society. We are in good company, and we can be a part of this movement…

And so here I am, thinking about mourning and peoplehood, war and peace, cycles of violence and how to break free, typing away at 2:00 am while Jerusalem sleeps. Chava Alberstein’s Chad Gadya, performed tonight by the women’s choir of the Arab/Jewish Center in Jaffa, plays hauntingly in my head:

Why suddenly do you sing Chad Gadya
When spring hasn’t yet arrived and Passover hasn’t come?
How have you changed, how are you different?
I changed this year.

That on all nights, all other nights I asked only Four Questions
This night I have another question:
“How long will the cycle of violence continue?”
Chase and be chased, beat and be beaten,
When will this madness end?

How have you changed, how are you different?
I changed this year.
I was once a sheep and a tranquil kid
Today I’m a tiger and a ravening wolf
I was once a dove and I was a deer.

Today I don’t know who I am.

Unlike Alberstein’s dark unknowing, a darkness I have felt so often this year, tonight I know better who I am because I know with whom I stand. I stand with Yael, the families of the Bereaved Families Forum who shared their stories tonight, 1000 other Israelis and Palestinians and the countless others who couldn’t be there tonight: