They waited for him to come home:
the trimmed lawn, the tree in its saucer,
the faded plastic chairs, the rusty
gate, creaking on its hinges.
Mother, brother, father, sister,
frozen in time: wilting, transparent,
bowed down with weight of days.
And then, when suddenly he comes in,
everything begins to move, the lawn thickens,
the tree bears fruit, the plastic
chairs are scrubbed, the gate turns
and creaks, moving endlessly.
If only he would come in, come home.
The bubble of time bursts. The scarred heart
beats again. Slowly they go down
on their knees, lift their eyes
to him in grief, in gratitude.
[Elisha Porat “Homecoming” translated by Eddie Levenston]
Elisha Porat’s poem, new to me, was shared last evening as part of a Yom haZikkaron commemoration at the Rabbinical Assembly convention in Montreal. For me, it powerfully narrates the annual intersection of Yom haZikkaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and Yom haAztma’ut (Israel’s Independence Day) as it beautifully captures the many layers and nuances of home and homecoming.
Porat’s poem describes waiting for a loved one to come home. Who is s/he? A soldier perhaps? A family member who has traveled far away and is now returning? The entire people (or a large part of it) coming home again? And does that loved one in fact come home? “Suddenly he comes in…” and just a few lines later “if only he would come in, come home.”
I write these words far from home. Sitting in a cafe at the edge of McGill’s campus, feeling strangely (and simultaneously) distant from, and deeply connected to, this day and its commemoration. In a few hours, our son, an Israeli by citizenship, service, and choice, will board a plane that will take him home. And in Israel, throughout this difficult day, people will visit cemeteries and one another, grieving over those moments, spread out over seven decades now, when a loved didn’t walk through the creaky gate of Porat’s poem.
Tonight, at dusk, the mourning of Yom haZikkaron gives way to the raucous celebrating of Yom haAztma’ut. “You turned my lament into dancing, you undid my sackcloth and girded me with joy” says the Psalmist. In one fell swoop, lament becomes dancing. Or does it? The deeper truth is that grief and gratitude (bekhi and hodayah in Porat’s words) happen at the same time, over and over again.
We pray that our loved ones, all of them, everywhere, will come home safely. And we grieve and voice laments without end over those who haven’t. “The gate turns and creaks, moving endlessly.” And we celebrate the homecoming of our people for “the scarred heart beats again.” On bended knee, “in grief and in gratitude.” Hag Atzma’ut Sameah! Israel 71! It’s coming up on time to dance.
:וְהֵם חִכּוּ לוֹ שֶׁיָּשׁוּב
,הַדֶּשֶׁא הַקָּצוּר, גֻּמַּת הָעֵץ
,כִּסְאוֹת הַפְּלַסְטִיק שֶׁדָּהוּ
.פִּשְׁפָּשׁ חָלוּד, צִירָיו שֶׁיִּבְּבוּ
,הָאֵם, הָאָח, הָאָב וְהָאָחוֹת
קְפוּאִים בְּתוֹךְ הַזְּמַן: קְמוּלִים
.שְׁקוּפִים, שָׁחִים מֵרֹב יָמִים
וְאָז, כְּשֶׁיִּכָּנֵס לְפֶתַע, הַכֹּל
,יָחֵל לָנוּעַ: הַדֶּשֶׁא שֶׁיִּצְמַח
הָעֵץ יִשָּׂא פִּרְיוֹ, כִּסְאוֹת
,הַפְּלַסְטִיק יִתְמָרְקוּ וְהַפִּשְׁפָּשׁ יִסֹּב
.יַחְרֹק, וְלֹא יַפְסִיק לָנוּעַ
רַק שֶׁיָּשׁוּב וְיִכָּנֵס: בּוּעַת
הַזְּמַן תִּפְקַע, לִבָּם הַמְצֻלָּק
יַחְזֹר לִפְעֹם. עַל בִּרְכֵּיהֶם
יֵרְדוּ לְאַט, אֵלָיו יִשְּׂאוּ
.עֵינַיִם: בִּבְכִי, בְּהוֹדָיָה
Join us tomorrow evening (Thursday May 9th) as we celebrate Israel 71! Yom haAtzmaut. Dinner – 6:15 pm; Israel Life Stories – 7:15 pm; Dancing – 8 pm.
L’shalom, Rabbi David