The Power of the Siren

8 May

Over the years, it has become national Israeli custom to mark the observances of Yom HaShoah(Holocaust Memorial Day) and Yom HaZikaron( Memorial Day for Fallen Israel Soldiers and Security People) through the sounding of warning sirens throughout the entire country at the very same minute.  Customarily, during that minute (or two minutes during the first siren of Yom HaZikaron), every one of us stands, in silence, and contemplates the losses of our people, the bravery of our nation.

Of course, each and every year the questions and criticism arises: “What kind of Jewish observance is this?  Better to use the time reciting Psalms!”  In fact, it was reported this year in the Yediot Aharonot that seven pupils at a Beit Ya’akov school in Netanya were punished after they stood up for the siren that sounded in honor of Holocaust Memorial Day.  According to the report, the school principal removed the girls from their classroom and forced them to stand up for the rest of the day and read psalms. In haredi circles, using sirens and “moments of silence” to mark memorial holidays is considered a gentile custom and is discouraged. (Jerusalem Post, Ap. 19, 2007)

Gentile custom? I beg to differ.

You shall count off seven weeks of years—seven times seven years—so that the period of seven weeks of years gives you a total of forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the horn loud; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month—the Day of Atonement—you shall have the horn sounded throughout your land and you shall hallow the fiftieth year. You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: each of you shall return to his portion and each of you shall return to his family. (Deuteronomy 25:8-10)

This week’s Torah reading tells us of the importance of sounding a national siren to announce an important moment – the onset of the Jubilee year.  And the main purpose of the Jubilee year – to remind us of the infinite value of every human being and the rights of every human being to enjoy liberty.

What do we imagine the Jews at that time doing during the sounding of the shofar throughout the land?  Were they permitted to stop and take it in, or did someone shove a book of tehillim in front of them?

When that siren sounds here in the State of Israel, we Israeli citizens stand in solidarity.  We mourn those whose liberty was taken away from them, and we honor those who gave their lives to preserve the liberty that we enjoy, liberty that we must not take for granted.

Is this blowing of the siren not simply a technologically advanced form of the blowing of the shofar to announce the jubilee year?  It marks a moment in time that asks us to take note of the value of individual human lives.

Is this not a powerful vehicle for creating a unified religious moment?  Israelis, wherever they are, feel the sanctity of those moments.

 

This past Memorial Day, Israeli Tennis star Shachar Peer won a decisive victory in Canada at a critical stage of the Women’s Fed Cup.  Following her victory, Peer remarked:

זה באמת היום הכי עצוב לדעתי עבור כל אחד במדינה. אני אוהבת להיות בבית בטקסים בימים האל וגם אנחנו נעמוד בשעת הצפירה שאמורה להיות לפי שעון קנדה

This is actually the saddest day, in my opinion, for everyone in Israel. I love being at home for the ceremonies on these days, and we too will stand at the time the siren is supposed to sound according to Canadian time. 

If the sounding of the siren has created such a strong impression upon a young Israeli woman, so much so that she longs to hear it and be here, with her people, at its sounding, then wouldn’t you agree that we have here a very Jewish, religious custom in the making, one that has conveyed the important values of bravery, sacrifice, people-hood, liberty, and love of Eretz Yisrael to the present generations?

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2 Responses to “The Power of the Siren”

  1. Tamar Wednesday, May 9, 2007 at 6:01 pm #

    I hear you Morey and I think you are right about the importance of this ritual, the importance of checking priorities from time to time and rechecking one’s values, the importance of not taking things for granted… but I don’t agree that it’s a Jewish religious custom in the making, especially about Yom HaZikkaron. We need to remember that many of those soldiers that we remember on that day, are not Jews! Some of the bravest soldiers we have are Druze, Beduin and maybe other religion representatives. I would like to believe that it’s an Israeli custom, perhaps adopted from other cultures but after 59 years, we can call our own.
    Tamar

  2. Morey Wednesday, May 9, 2007 at 9:43 pm #

    Tamar,

    I appreciate your comments.

    I don’t think calling the siren a Jewish ritual eleiminates the possiblility that it memorializes the sacrifices of non-Jews. Don’t we say a bracha on the rainbow, commemorating the brit that God made, not to destroy the earth and its inhabitants ever again? On the holiday of Sukkot, 70 parot were offered in the Temple, in honor of the 70 nations, and water was pured on the mizbeach to ask for rain for the whole world…etc All of these are Jewish customs, even if they take into consideration the needs or blessings related to non-Jews as well.

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