Saturday, 19 April 2014
A month ago I expressed my concerns as to how religion is going to create tensions when it comes to mourning over my father's death. Now I can report, retrospectively, that I was generally wrong.
The first point of contention was the funeral, which I attended without taking an active part in. I wore my Mass Effect hat as a Kippa, I kept my distance from the Rabbi coming in to tear the shirts of first order family members, and I did not say any prayers. I was able to get away with it because my brother took on all religious duties, which was fine by me.
Sure, it wasn't all smooth sailing. I was teased before the ceremony, I was stared at during the ceremony, people stepped in to "advise" me on how to behave during the ceremony, and I was teased after the ceremony for being too much of a tight arse to let the Rabbi tear my cheap t-shirt. With regards to the latter, I was wearing a Carl Sagan shirt that no Rabbi is worthy of touching. More importantly, though, when people tried to get me to act as per the script it was none other than my mother who stepped in to inform them that her son has his own opinions and these opinions should be respected. I never saw that coming!
Later on, at the Shivaa (the Jewish ritual in which the immediate family sits at home for a week and friends/family come to visit) there were no prayers either. It seemed as if there was quiet agreement amongst the family (mother, brothers and sister) that we are secular, we do not care for praying, and we should stick with what we feel comfortable with. Before discounting this gesture for nothing, bear in mind that this is a first for my family. Not all the grand family was pleased with this move; some chose to hold their own Shivaa instead of attending "ours".
So: although it is clear religion is still a divisive force, I can happily report being wrong. Or as happy as I can report anything these days, given my father's death.
One thing to reemerge during the mourning is how little I know about my father, particularly about his history prior to marrying my mother. I grew up weary of conflicting tales on origins and adventures, to the point of simply not caring (and in this age where people seem to develop a fetish for identifying their immediate ancestry, I still don't care much; I'm happy knowing I'm a relative of anything alive today on our planet, descended as I am from a line of great apes).
One thing I do know about my father is that he was, by anyone's definition, an Israeli war hero. He took part in an underground movement at the time Israel was under British control, and later he lied about his age to join Israel's newly established army and fight for the 1947-1948 War of Independence. That war saw 1% of Israel's Jewish population die, and many of my father's friends were in that 1%, but he was one of those that made it despite taking part in several bloody battles.
When I consider my father's war history nowadays I wonder about its morality. I do not blame my father of any crime; his actions were a product of the time, and ethics were not a major part of the establishment of any democracy I am aware of. I think it is safe to say my father did not do anything extraordinarily unethical by the time's standards. I also know that he took part in some very ethical activities, such as rescuing people from the burning weapons ship Altalena when there was a risk internal fighting shortly after the declaration of the State of Israel. That guy you see standing on top of a Hasake (חסקה, a small flat boat you stand on), rushing to rescue people from the burning ship in the embedded image above, is my father! Or at least that's what he used to say.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because during my father's funeral there were a couple of speeches being said. In one of them, it was claimed that my father was an Israeli war hero - a fact I agree with - just like another Israeli war hero who died recently, Meir Har-Zion. And it is the latter comparison I disagree with.
If you were to read what Wikipedia has to say about Har-Zion I doubt you would call the guy an Israeli war hero. Sure, you might say that he was a great soldier, but a hero? To me the guy reads like a war criminal much more than he does a hero. Comparing him to my father is, therefore, a great injustice to the memory of my father.
As usual, I suspect what I have just said here would be considered heresy by most contemporary Israelis. That, however, is exactly why it was important for me to express my opinion on the matter. That, and the fact that I think my father's views were closer to mine than to Har-Zion's. Sure, my father fought and did lots of things that one can only be forgiven for during war time, but he was also brave enough to change his opinion over time.
He might have not murdered Arabs like Har-Zion did, but he was of the material that could bring peace, finally, to the Arab-Israeli conflict. In this postmortem comparison I can only see one hero, and that hero is my father.
Image taken out of this YouTube video of the Israeli TV series, Amud HaEsh (עמוד האש). You can find it at 50 minutes, 10 seconds.