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Bring Them Home Now

Bring Them Home Now

Published by rabbinj on February 14, 2024 For a full version of this blog please go to https://rabbijanes.wordpress.com/2024/02/14/bring-them-home-now/


The Cameri theatre in Tel Aviv is putting on a production of ‘Oedipus’ – based on the play by Sophocles adapted by Robert Icke. A story that speaks to the very essence of connection to a father and a mother, amidst the imagined turmoil of a contemporary election night.

Inside the Tel Aviv Museum of Modern Art there is an exhibit of George Segal’s ‘Sacrifice of Isaac’ – which originally came to be identified with the Yom Kippur War, hence it is exhibited in the 50th anniversary, and as a result it calls to mind the sacrifice of sons in war.

The life size model of Abraham and his son, Isaac, were based on the artist’s friend Menashe Kadishman and Kadishman’s son, Ben. Kadishman, who died in 2015, himself an acclaimed artist, has a sculpture entitled ‘The Sacrifice of Isaac’ in the square now known as ‘Hostage Square’ in Tel Aviv in the plaza outside the museum. Kadishman’s sculpture was created in the context of the Lebanon war in 1982. In his enormous sculpture, two mothers are grieving the death of their sons and the ram looms large.

When I was in Hostage Square in February 2024, the outdoor sculpture of Kadishman was fenced off, presumably to protect it, and a photo of Kfir Bibas the now one year old baby is fixed to the temporary fencing – his first birthday was held in captivity. His parents, Yarden and Shiri, along with his brother Ariel (aged 4) also continue to be in captivity.

Outside on the street a temporary exhibit is of children’s toys bound and blindfolded, one of with a sign containing a play on the words of Avinu Malkeinu (a holy prayer particularly associated with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) which still reads Avinu Malkeinu only with a change of letter it means instead of ‘our Father our King’ rather ‘Our Father Our Beating…save us’.

And then I stood listening to Idit Ohel, the mother of Alon Ohel, a hostage whose birthday it was, talk about the celebration of her son’s birthday in his absence. A birthday party of music for the talented musician at the piano installed in the square, with his favourite food. A 23 year old birthday celebration with the mother speaking about absence and connection.

At the demonstration after Shabbat by the Hostage Square, Einav Zangauker spoke. Her son, Matan, had an exchange with her on the morning of 7th October:

“Everything will be okay, my prince,” wrote his mother. Then Matan wrote, “I love you, don’t cry.” And finally, “Here. Here. Here.”

She calls out clear and strong for the return of her son. To be reunited with him. To demand that the government do everything to bring home all the hostages, now – effectively pressuring for a ceasefire and a deal of any cost to return all the captives. To Netanyahu she says, “I voted for you at the ballot box. When will you vote for me?”

The sheer fortitude and defiance of mothers and fathers to speak out in this moment is beyond measure and their strength and actions also feel like some of the threads which are holding the fabric of life together. When Amir Tibon spoke of his ordeal, this child to father, from child to father, connection could not be missed as his family remained silently hidden for hours with Amir (the father) reassuring his children to keep quiet for 10 hours and to have faith that his own father was coming to rescue them – who said just two words, “I’m coming”.

And then you only have to listen to the parents who travelled to the Gaza border, as we reached 100 days of captivity, to call out across the border fence, perhaps metres from where the children were held hostage, in the hope they could be heard. Amidst the cries, the agony, calling out to their children, the collapse of life around them, you hear the moment when Romi Gonen’s mother, Meirav Leshem Gonen, speaks with a steely tone that only a mother demanding that everything is done for her child, “We are doing everything to bring you home, we are telling everybody, all the leaders…YOU WILL BRING THEM HOME NOW.”

It’s what Noah Efron host on the Promised Podcast described as like Isaiah 40:

“Comfort, oh comfort My people, Says your God…A voice rings out: “Clear in the desert a road for God! Level in the wilderness a highway for our God!” Isaiah 40:1 and 3

Everywhere you look are stickers that call for the children to be returned to their home, using a verse of Jeremiah 31 “Your children shall return to their country”, which follows a description of Rachel, the matriarch, weeping for her children.

“Thus said God: A cry is heard in the high ground — Wailing, bitter weeping— Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted for her children, who are gone.” Jeremiah 31:15

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the 2nd century CE says in Bereshit Rabbah 71:2, “All matters depend on Rachel, that is why Israel is called by her name.” Rachel becomes a figure of motherhood who refuses to let God forget or act with impunity no matter how grave the perceived sins of her children. It is Rachel who sustains the tortuous connection between the shattered pain of loss and destruction and the possibility of hope, between the scandal of injustice and the future with faith in goodness.

In my visit to Israel, I saw so many remnants of shattered families and the pain of fathers and mothers, brother and sisters, sons and daughters, and I felt the earth trembling with the order of things being turned on its head after the terrorist massacre by Hamas. No surprise really. The rising voices of parents demanding justice for their, sometimes, adult children, are filling the void of the perceived failure of the hierarchies of state and even, dare we say, the scandal of an eclipsed God.

And so, I keep thinking of the words of Joseph and of Jacob in Genesis 45, separated between the land of Israel and Egypt where Joseph has been taken captive and then risen to prominence.

“Is my father still alive?” Genesis 45:3
“My son Joseph is still alive, I must go and see him before I die!” Genesis 45:28

The tragic rumblings of devastation may be felt after the horrific terror attacks of Hamas. The humanitarian cost of innocent lives in Israel and in Gaza is wounding our souls. But the voices and vision of parents are heard, tying the frayed threads which hold the fabric of life together, so dear, for us all.

So we pray with them, “BRING THEM HOME NOW!”

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