By Sami Frankel
My first time in Israel was four years ago as a participant in Ramah Israel Seminar. After ten harrowing days in Poland, we arrived in Israel on June 30th, 2014, and we knew that we were stepping into a developing war zone. Not five hours earlier, as we were sitting in the airport in Warsaw, we had all received push notifications announcing that Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel had been found dead in Hebron. The retributive arrests of Hamas suspects of their kidnapping and murder were expected to be met with attacks from Hamas leadership in Gaza, which was, in turn, expected to develop into a war. Indeed, on July 17th, after weeks of military preparations, Israel publicly announced their intent to intervene in Gaza, and for the rest of the summer, we began to understand what it means to live in Israel during a war. Of course, we hardly touched the surface. Ramah’s first priority was our safety: we spent an extra week at our kibbutz in the north before coming down to Jerusalem, and we canceled our Shabbaton in Tel Aviv. We certainly didn’t go into the southern Negev, and we were nowhere near Sderot or the rest of the border with Gaza. Nevertheless, I left that summer feeling a connection to Israel unlike anything I had experienced before. I am convinced that my being in Israel during the summer of 2014, seeing my counselors drafted, and constantly receiving notifications from RedAlert, gave me an understanding of life in Israel that few other people in my social mileux understood.
In the years since Seminar, I have met people whose siblings were serving in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, and even a few people who were soldiers themselves during that summer. Between these introductions and perspectives that I have developed over time, I have started to realize that, though my experience and my reflections are totally legitimate and important, I still have absolutely no idea what it really means to live close to war. Sure, during our week at a kibbutz in the (northern part of the) Negev, I found myself crouched behind a refrigerator in a safe room with five other people when we heard a siren, and sure, when I arrived home and heard a plane fly by overheard, I found myself waiting for the next plane to come by after it, but I was safe. We were kept as far from conflict as possible, and our summer was colored with little fear. Visiting Sderot in April with The Nachshon Project emphasized this distinction all the more, and I am so grateful for how much this experience added to my perspective.
Listening to Tamar and Nitzan Bar Kama sing was mesmerizing. The name of their organization—A New Voice—absolutely rang true; the words that they shared with us, through their conversation and through song, were beautiful, honest, and entirely relatable. They began with a song about strangers, a song that was angry at those who didn’t and couldn’t possibly understand the terror and beauty of life in Sderot, a song whose lyrics expressed the frustration of trying to explain over and over again that which truly cannot be explained. As they sang, I felt guilty, regretful of the conversations I had upon my return to the United States in which I shared what my experience in Israel had taught me about war. I might have learned a lot, but my lessons were so minor in comparison with their songs.
“There’s no such thing as post-trauma here in Sderot,” Tamar told us. “Trauma here is ongoing.”
The beauty of responding to that trauma through song is unbelievably powerful.
As they reflected on their experience of running an organization, they shared a story of performing the song Aza at their concert. The song was written by a woman who was frustrated and confused by her relationship with Gaza, simultaneously angry with the people sending rockets over the border and disgusted by the violence of the response by Israel.
“Gaza, my love for you is like an enormous explosion…like a Jewish terrorist on the Temple Mount…like your two eyes, which surely blaze with hate”
With the concert soon approaching, the performance list was released, and another performer refused to sing if this song was also on the set the list. For him, there was no sympathizing with Gaza; they were attacking his people, and he was angry. Performing at a concert that even suggested forgiveness was unacceptable to him. Tamar and Nitzan brought the musicians together to talk about their perspectives and interpretations of the song, amazed by how this concert served as a microcosm of the community, representing so many voices reflecting on a shared experience. Ultimately, when the concert took place, that very musician who was so angry with the song’s lyrics played the guitar in the performance. This message of the importance of conversation—of sharing and of listening—was an incredible summary of the mission of A New Voice and unbelievable reflection on the profundity of individual experience.