Our Season of Joy

flag in our yard 2

It’s all in the timing.

Today is Erev Sukkot, and as I was driving my youngest son to school this morning, I heard on the radio that Hamas released a proof of life video of Gilad Shalit – the first since his capture at the start of the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006. The video was handed over to the Israelis in exchange for the release of 20 female Palestinian prisoners. In the recording, Shalit expresses his hope that he will soon be able to go home to his family:

I read newspapers in search of information about me. I hope to find some kind of information indicating that my release and return home is imminent. I have been waiting and hoping for a long time for the day that I am released.

I hope that the current administration, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu won’t waste this opportunity to achieve a deal, and as a result I will finally be able to realize my dream and be released.

What happier event than Gilad Shalit’s release could happen during this holiday, the time of rejoicing? But the chances of his gaining his freedom immediately are unlikely, given that the Palestinians are demanding the release of hundreds of other prisoners and a statement from the office of Prime Minister Netanyahu that, “the path to Gilad’s release is still long and arduous.”

Closer to home (literally), the timing of this has an additional meaning. You see, in our yard tied to an orange tree with a blue ribbon is a plastic Israeli flag.  It has has been there since the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Actually, the flag was tied to a sycamore tree at our old house, and when we moved last year we tied it to an orange tree at our new house (with the thought that the orange tree was symbolic of Israel). The same flag and blue ribbon have been used in both locations.

Gilad Shalit

Gilad Shalit

We did not take the flag down when the news reached us that Regev and Goldwasser were dead and a deal with Hizbollah had been struck for the return of their remains to Israel for burial. We decided to put it up in solidarity with all three soldiers, so we will not remove it until Shalit returns home – hopefully alive.

What is timely about the release of the video of Shalit is that the flag affixed to our orange tree is a Simchat Torah one. It was exactly five years ago that I was in New York at the school I was running, unpacking hundreds of these flags in preparation for their use by my students as we rejoiced in the Torah following Sukkot. These were special flags I had found, large ones with a foam stick specially designed to avoid children’s poking each other’s eyes out and other painful mishaps.  I brought one home with me, where it ended up in my youngest son’s toy box. It obviously somehow made its way into one of our moving cartons and travelled with us to Palo Alto, miraculously revealing itself (and I am not using this term hyperbolically – it really was a miracle given the balaganist nature of my youngest child) just as we wanted to create something tangible to show our concern for the kidnapped soldiers.

On Sukkot we read Kohelet, Ecclesiastes, as a mediation on the haphazardness of life. If you pay attention to the musings and kvetches of its author as the scroll is being read, you will get some good advice on how to enjoy and make meaning of the fragility and vagaries of our existence.  Like that you need to figure out how to ride things out, because life can change in an instant. A beloved son can be kidnapped by the enemy in a blink of an eye. And you have to go on living.

crying mother statueOn Sukkot we are not yet very near the Shabbatot when we read the Torah portions that make mention of Rachel. But it was just a couple of days ago that I wrote in another post that my Hebrew name is Rachel. As I have grown older, I have come to relate more strongly to my biblical namesake. It probably has a lot to do with our both being the mother of sons. Interestingly, it is not even the “flesh and blood” Rachel we read of in the Torah who most resonates for me, but rather the symbolic, paradigmatic one we encounter in the Prophets as they try to comfort the exiles. How relevant these words from Jeremiah 31:14-16 are on this Erev Sukkot:

Rachel mevakah al baneiha…veshavu banim ligvulam.

A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not.

Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded and they will come back from the land of the enemy.

And there is hope for your future, and your children shall return to their own border.

All I can say is: Lu yehi. May it be so. This time.

© 2009 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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