3 of the Second Month 5768
Two nights ago at 8:00pm the Israeli Memorial Day Siren sounded. Leading up to that moment, I realized that I had not been in a city for during the sounding of sirens for years. Often I was at home at night or teaching school in a small town during the day, where my choice as to what to do during the siren was made for me.
With all of the chatter about the siren, and knowing that I would be in Jerusalem, I thought more than usual about what I would do when the siren went off. Although I have to admit, from the first time I experienced the sirens in Tel-Aviv, 10 years ago, I have found the experience moving,...in a way.
Some have suggested that standing for a siren, laying wreaths on graves, and the like are not in the least bit Jewish, and should be exchanged for traditionally Jewish practices.
Rabbi Hanania Tsfar of Rosh Ha'Ayin called for the reciting Tehillim (Psalms) during IDF Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day (Nitsan Yanko, YNET).
The two friends who surprised me with a visit in the middle of the previous night expressed their opposition to Rabbi Tsfar's opinion, suggesting that any non-Jewish practices should be shunned. They did not buy my suggestion that the misguided segments of Am Yisrael (The Jewish People) needed to be educated as to what "Jewish" meant, and that this might just be the way to do it.
To me, Rabbi Tsfar's opinion sounded like a positive way to educate others about what IS Jewish without causing a ruckus. Most secular Jews know what it means when a religious Jew is holding some sort of book in his hand, lips muttering away. That's really an understatement. Many even consider this to be the role of religious Jews: "Pray for us," is their call, with saying Tehillim, or learning mishna'oth, also being cast into this category.
You may want to check out Rafi G.'s comprehensive coverage of the issues of the siren and of memorial observance.
So, what happened?
I was on the No. 4 bus, which generally has a mixed crowd, including Arabs, due the diverse set of neighborhoods it connects.
Traveling northward, the bus stopped for the siren at the corner of Shtrauss and HaNevi'im Streets, right in front of Biqur Holim Hospital. Most everyone stood up on this full bus, including Haredim of all flavors. There were only a few exceptions. A Hassidishe woman and her daughter sitting right in back of me, continued to chat away. A young, American Haredi couple, across the aisle from the mother and daughter, did not stand up either, but their speech clearly changed from talking to whispering.
I stood. I didn't see any reason not to. Although it might has caused some eyebrows to be raised if I hadn't. I was wearing a blue, knit kippah, instead of my usual black, which is often mistaken for one of the typical Haredi styles. (No statements intended...I just couldn't find my black one.)
"Why wasn't the Tzi'eini standing?" would have been heard throughout the bus,...assuming that anyone would have bothered to notice. And I doubt that anyone would have. So, I stood, knowing that nothing positive would have come from my refraining to stand in this particular situation.
My only regret was forgetting a siddur, to be visually do something different than the norm. Who knows, maybe it would have initiated conversation. I said Tehillim quietly nonetheless.
There weren't any Arabs on the bus this time, so I was unable to observe that added variable thrown into the pot. Also, I was so focused on what was going on inside of the bus, that I completely missed seeing what was going on outside of the bus.
The bus started up again, passing Kikar Shabbos (Sabbath Square), the defacto meeting point of the Haredi neighborhoods of Me'ah Sha'arim and Ge'ulah, and where there was a bit of a scuffle on Wednesday morning. There were the beginnings of a demonstration brewing. But farther up the [Yehezqel] street, demonstrations were more developed, and filled with signs. My experience told me that this was Neturah Karta sponsored, but I can't be certain.
I hope that more representatives of the State Rabbanuth will come forward with suggestions for next year, as to how we can observe memorials with the countless Jewish traditions we already have established.
Standing at attention and sounding a siren are not on the list.