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Rosh Hashanah Legacy 1972

Credit: Alban J on Pixabay

September and Rosh Hashanah usually coincide – a time of new beginnings and fresh starts, and when you're a farmer, the start of the planting season. September 1972 began, instead, with the massacre of twelve Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich, Germany, on the 5th, and 6th. Although this horror technically occurred in the "old" year, its lasting effect was unavoidable.

I was living then on a moshav on the Jordanian border. We had to rely solely on radio updates to follow the catastrophe in Munich. Although we did have a television in our clubroom we couldn't pull in Israeli TV, relying on English language broadcasts from Jordan for news and entertainment. I don't remember if and how they reported this terror attack but even if we had followed their reports, it was listening to a stranger at a time when you needed family.

Our community was isolated on a hill above the Jordan Rift Valley. We missed the emotional support from extended family and the general public. When we are struggling with the same fears and anxieties, it's enough to share a weak smile, a silly comment or the silence of eye contact that transmits understanding.

I remember staring at the radio, begging it for more.

Give me another description. I can't see what's happening! What are they doing now? The lack of visuals creates a vacuum and vacuums are then filled with our fears. I guess there's a reason we are obsessed with our screens at these times. We can connect to the scene, to the victims, to the traumatized witnesses. In a sense, we are there.

True to Israeli life, the juxtaposition of this tragedy with the joy of Rosh Hashanah two days later was a challenge. We should have an easier time of coping with this phenomenon because we experience this clash of emotions every year, first with the grief of Memorial Day and then the jarring transition into the festivities of Independence Day. Radio and TV stations help us flow between the two dichotomies by beginning with somber songs of wars and stories of fallen soldiers, and as we approach the evening of Independence Day, broadcasts glide into more neutral offerings until the moment when the flag is raised to full mast and the frenzy of parties, foam, concerts and firecrackers take over. Not only was that sudden transition in 1972 unplanned, but we were all so excited about our team's participation in the Olympics, and in Germany of all places, that we were shocked into a despair that we couldn't come out of. I, at least, needed time to absorb the enormity of the loss and the anger that Israel wasn't allowed to handle the rescue.

But Rosh Hashanah could not be ignored. It was time for sweet challah, honey and blessings for the new and hopefully better year to come.

Most of the members chose to remain on the moshav rather than go to their families for the holiday. We were creating a community and needed this shared experience. Together we decorated the dining room and prepared meals, mixing in all the traditions of our members. Someone did blow the shofar but there were no prayer services, neither evening nor daytime. No mention of the birth of Isaac, the exile of Hagar and Ishmael, the saving of Ishmael nor the binding of Isaac. I wonder which prayer book version we would have used had we wanted prayers. We numbered about forty young people whose parents and /or grandparents had come from Eastern Europe, France, Morocco, Yemen, Tunis, Iraq and of course, the United States. We were a diverse community before "diversity" became something to strive towards.

So, we carried on. We planted crops for our new season. I was becoming a true farmer who loved working in the fields. I sometimes gazed with love and pride at our vegetables, like the green peppers I had planted and picked with my own hands. I would hold one in my hand mesmerized by creation and nature. And sometimes, I literally bit into our profits, unable to resist the pull of that smooth, shiny pepper. I loved the resounding crunch of the first bite. I would stand in the fields absorbed by the freshness of the outdoors, and the feeling of camaraderie with the other farmers working near me and even the ones across the river in Jordan.

"I looked over Jordan and what did I see?" I wrote in a moment of contemplation to my family. "I saw farmers plowing their fields, children riding donkeys. You remember how void of greenery it is here. It's the same on the other side. But in the middle, on the banks of the Jordan River, is a growth of beautiful green trees alongside bushy ones and grass. It's absolutely gorgeous there. Inspiring."

Yes, inspiring. A feeling of continuity. The Israelites has passed through here after entering the Promised Land. Here I was, farming that land and building a future. I was pregnant and in June would give birth to my first child. But as hard as we try to suppress the terrors of the past, we can't, nor should we, because although the event may have ended, it carries a legacy.

Jump to Rosh Hashanah fourteen years later, and the start of a new school year in a new town. One of my daughter's teachers had been on the Olympic team in 1972. On my class roster where I was teaching was the child of one of the Munich victims. I can still see her sitting in my classroom. She had been a baby when her father was taken from her so she couldn't have a memory of those events. I do, however, and I just wanted to hug her and tell her how devastated we all were. But of course, I never did. It was never mentioned nor alluded to. Unfortunately, she wasn't the only student I taught over the years who had lost a father to war or terror.

Another Rosh Hashanah is here, and I will be with my children and grandchildren on that once little moshav that has flourished so beautifully since those traumatic events of September 1972. We will hear the shofar and pray with Am Yisrael that we will all be inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year.


Comments 1

Guest - Craig Silver on Wednesday, 06 September 2023 11:45

Wow Galia , This article moved me … so much. Thank you for the great work you do and the parts of you that are in each article …. I’m thankful to be an Israeli citizen ..Craig Silver

Wow Galia , This article moved me … so much. Thank you for the great work you do and the parts of you that are in each article …. I’m thankful to be an Israeli citizen ..Craig Silver
Sunday, 25 February 2024

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