Timeless poem lends hope as Israel turns 60

Timeless poem lends hope as Israel turns 60


Ten years ago, I sat on the rooftop of an apartment building watching fireworks explode in the Jerusalem night sky. In the streets below, thousands cheered, sang and danced until dawn in joyous celebration of Israel's 50th year as an independent nation.

Israel at 50 was a very different country than the one we know at 60. In 1998, Israelis celebrated the progress that had been made since the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords and believed that peace with the Palestinians was both possible and imminent.

Tragically, that momentum was halted in 2000 when the second intifada erupted. Today, a wall between the Israelis and Palestinians stands as testimony to how far apart the two sides have grown.

There is a poem by the late Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai, which describes an Arab shepherd and Jewish father, who come together in a desperate search on Mount Zion.

"An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father

Both in their temporary failure …

Our two voices met above

The Sultan's Pool in the valley between us.

Neither of us wants the boy or the goat

To get caught in the wheels

Of the 'Had Gadya' machine."

The "temporary failure" Amichai describes is what all of us fear most: the loss or death of what is most precious to us.

The poem concludes with both men laughing and crying, as love and life overcome fear and death.

"Afterward we found them among the bushes

And our voices came back inside us, laughing and crying.

Searching for a goat or a son

Has always been the beginning

Of a new religion in these mountains."

I was reminded of this poem while reading a story in the New York Times about two families in the intensive-care unit of an Israeli hospital. On one side of the shared curtain lay Israeli Osher Twito, 8, who lost his leg from a rocket fired from the Palestinian-held Gaza City.

On the other lay Palestinian Yakoub Natil, 7, who was seriously injured by shrapnel from an Israeli airstrike. The valley between them was created by the years of frustration, loss, hopelessness and terror that now defines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Amichai was no romantic. Yet 40 years ago, he imagined a moment in history when the love for what is cherished most would conquer the fear, anger and hatred that has led two people, historically linked as brothers, to destroy each other's families.

Amichai refers to sacrifices — the goat and the son — that are part of the narratives from which Judaism and Islam were born. From the beginning of biblical time, sacrifices have been required in order to survive. Few disagree that a lasting, meaningful peace will require them. The Oslo accords were premised on that belief. But it is untenable that Osher and Yakoub should become the sacrifices required for peace. Sacrifices cannot be unilateral; they must be made on both sides. Amichai's poem inspires us to believe that peace is still possible.

When Jew and Arab search together to save rather than to destroy what is most precious to them, be it their children or their land; when Jew and Arab mutually agree to educate their children about the necessity and benefits of peace, rather than to deploy them; and when love for life trumps hatred and revenge, then we will see a new beginning in the land of Israel.

Write to Amy Lederman at her Web site: amyhirshberglederman.com.

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