Saturday, September 14, 2013

Dudu Zakai-We Met Again

We met together again
The guys from '67
Yehezkiel, Gidi and Hanan
And the poet too
There was a feeling of no choice
Grey was the color
There was loneliness, the heart was heavy
There was that feeling
As if we were being planted here in nature
I knew then, that you I love

Sing to me my homeland your beautiful songs
How much I loved to sing them during difficult times

We met again the same half-track
From '67
The same smile, the same gaze
The same touching laugh
One was singing softly a song
About Dan and about Beersheva
Another sat absorbed and thinking
And around us the thundering of the night
Nature scowling his face
Irritated by the stranger approaching

Sing to me my homeland your beautiful songs
How much I loved to sing them during difficult times

We met together again
The guys from '67
It was hard, what is there to say
The heart was sad
We knew we'd overcome, simply
We did this for permanency
We knew this despite all the pain
We felt it in every valley
On every mound and hill
We let the ambusher feel it

Sing to me my homeland your beautiful songs
How much I loved to sing them during difficult times

I usually try to post the newest Israeli music but today [note: I began writing this post on Friday morning, before Yom Kippur began] is a day for looking back. Since Rosh HaShana we've been in the Ten Days of Repentance, a time for reflection, and it feels that the New Year will only officially start on Sunday after Yom Kippur. Since Rosh HaShana the newspapers have been filled, alongside current news regarding Syria, with special articles regarding 40 years since the Yom Kippur war, whose importance as a defining moment in our small history as a country seems only to grow with time. I vaguely remember learning about the war in high school-I just remember the key terms: post '67 euphoria, Intelligence failure, the Bar-Lev line...I also remember a school trip to the North and Avigdor Kahalani recalling to us the battles as if it were yesterday, pointing at hills where there were tanks and I just couldn't grasp that this was a former battlefield, it was so peaceful and pastoral. The information about the war feels endless and new items are popping up even today, for example Golda Meir's testimony at the Agrenat committee, released for the first time on Thursday. I was especially interested not really in what exactly happened (although it's one of the most fascinating wars to read about) but its affect on Israeli culture, even today. This article is about the artistic response to the trauma, specifically in recent literature, and touches on collective memory in general. I got a bit lost in all the articles but what did leave a lasting impression on me was the photo albums taken by soldiers, mostly reservists, who brought their cameras with them into the battlefield, completely aware that for some of their friends they photographed it might be their last picture. All of the albums are intruiging and give important insight into what it was really like during the war, at least in "off-time", but a few really stood out for me:
The first is Danny Barzilay Goldstone's. Goldstone heard about the war when leaving the synagogue in Miami and after some difficulty he managed to catch a flight to Israel-and went straight from the airport to the battlefield. Because of his experience in the Intelligence he was recruited to the Jerusalem Brigade which headed towards the Ismailia line. He recalls being impressed with the Egyptian Third Armia's pedant and sharp appearance, which stood in contrast to the Israeli soldiers who didn't shave and maintained a somewhat unkept look. Goldstein's album is so surreal-posing by the bridges of the Suez he looks more like an amused tourist happy to be reuinted with the guys rather than a worried soldier at war.
Another reservist who flew in from abroad is Amnon Horev, who was working in Columbia. Horev joined his troop where he was a commander in the past and they helped rescue the headquarters of battalion 71, while he was still in his civilian clothes. He was able to get hold of an Uzi gun from a soldier who stayed behind because of illness. He recalls Moshe Dayan's visit towards the end of the war and how he turned his back to him. "I was mad at him because we had learned in the Attrition War that the strongholds aren't for stopping the enemy and during the war they'll be evacuated. Up till today I still don't understand why there wasn't a command to the guys to just get up and flee. It would have taken a few minutes and would have prevented hundreds of casualties". He says that the command probably wasn't ordered because of Gorodish, whom he had critiqued in '67, when he came to Horev's troop to lecture about the battle in Jersey and had said about him then "They should kick him out of the army. He's arrogant and dismissive of the enemy". Yossi agreed before his death and said "they should have kicked him out back then".
Another fascinating album is Eran Ronen's. Ronen, who was from Kibbutz Chulda living there with his wife and 7 month daughter, was recruited at 31 and served as a Zelda driver in Brigade 271. He died years later and during the war kept a journal in which he recorded the battles and entertainment performances. IDF archive just released mute documentation of those performances which served as much needed momentary escapism, a bit of which you can see here.
But one of my favourite album's is Tzvi Shiler's not only because of the thoughtful photographs but also because of his recollections of the war 40 years later which give the photos a whole new meaning. Here is a partial translation.

"Saturday, October 6th 1973, two years after discharge from the military service as division sergeant in the Golany brigade. I was a student at the Tel Aviv University, on my summer break before starting my third year in Mechanical Engineering.
I passed the fast sleeping until the hours before noon when I got a phone call from a friend who told me that there was heavy movement on the roads. Geha road, by Ramat Efal, was bustling with traffic. It was clear that something had happened but we didn't know yet what it was. At 14:00 in the afternoon a siren was heard so we turned on the TV and realized that a war had broken out. Later in the day we saw helicopters evacuating the injured to the nearby Tel HaShomer hospital.
On the radio we heard recruitment passwords as if there wasn't a general recruitment. My twin brother, an officer in Combat Engineer, received on that same night a command to report to his unit the next morning. My unit was less organized, and because I hadn't heard from them until the next morning, I drove on my own to the Squad Commanders School in the North. As usual I brought with me my Zurky C Camera, a Russian imitation of Leica, which I received from my father for my school trip in the 4th grade, and has accompanied me since on every trip, in regular service and in reserves.
I saw in photography during the war a mission: to document the people and to tell in photos what we went through. I photographed out of the fear that some of the subjects won't survive the war. For this reason I spared no photos of soldiers, even those I didn't know.
On Monday morning the 8th of October, I arrived with the rest of the brigade soldiers to Rosh Pina. We waited for what was to come while Air Force Skyhawks passed by us on their way to the Rama. Because of a lack of half-tracks we couldn't join the fighting force. The few half-tracks were used by the regular forces who passed through Rosh Pina on their way to the Rama.
At the place a war room for brigade was set up from where the troop's Operation Officers followed the movement of the forces in the first fight on Hermon.
There was tension in the air and it was clear that the situation wasn't good. At a certain point the Operations clerk brought to the war room the list of casualties in the fight on Hermon. The Operations Officer, I don't know his name, quietly went over the list but you could see the shock on his face upon learning the names of those killed.
On the commanding network I heard Raful commanding the forces as if it was an exercise. In his voice it was difficult to tell the proximity of the Syrian forces...We passed time reading newspapers and watching the foreign reporters broadcasting to the world about the war. Yoram Gaon passed by, not clear to where.
The next day, Tuesday, the 9th of October, we put our equipment on the buses and drove up to the Rama. We reached Kilaa ... Once in a while Israeli planes who avoided Syrian rockets flew above us. Major Amanual Hart, whom I knew from my regular service, and who later became Golani brigadier, arrived to the area and told us about the difficult battles taking place at the outposts.
From Kila we moved to a forest by Bukata, and from there we crossed the border in buses on Thursday evening (October 11) or Friday. A strange feeling. We are in the midst of fighting and sitting in an Egged bus...
...From Chaadar we went out to actions in the conquered area and on the way defended ourselves from strikes by Syrian aircrafts. When we received a warning of an air attack the routine was to get off the half-tracks, keep one soldier on the heavy machine gun, spread out in the area and be prepared to shoot at aircrafts, Luckily we weren't attacked.
...On one of the nights I was assigned to replace a half-track commander who was taken to action deep in the Syrian area. On the half-track were regular soldiers from battalion 17 and they were quite indifferent to what was going on around them. I didn't know them and didn't question what they had gone through but I figured they had had enough of battles.
...The last mission in the war was to reinforce troops stationed during the second battle on Mount Hermon on one of the peaks in control of the Wadi descending from the mountain ridge. We carried water, equipment and coats so that the forces on the mountain wouldn't freeze. On the mountain we received two Syrian captives caught on their way from the Hermon post. We shared with them the coats we brought so they wouldn't freeze and brought them down to the camp the next morning.
With the end of the fighting we stayed in the enclaves and performed additional tasks such as assisting forces on one of the peaks over Bet J'aan. In the first round of releases to home after the war we passed by a Syrian convey destroyed in east of Kunetra by the Israeli Air Force.
After more than six months in Reserves I returned to my studies and completed them with success after two years. I worked for a few years before I was sent by the Aerospace Industry to study a master's degree in Robotics at MIT. The studies lengthened to a PhD and a position at UCLA.
After more than 20 years I came back to Israel in October 2001 to establish the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechatronics in Ariel college, which recently became Ariel University, and in which I am a professor today.
The photographs of war take me back 40 years and they connect the hazy fragments of memory from that bloody war. It's strange to see in the pictures war "routine" which does not reveal the horror of that time. Moments of fear have been pushed out and forgotten and made the way for memories of brotherhood between fighters, mutual aid, and common fate in a seminal event which will not be forgotten for a long time.

The feelings of brotherly compassion Shiler describes are what I felt when I heard this gem by Dudu Zakai. He highlights how despite the difficulties there was a sense of solidarity and somewhat positive outlook which is very admirable. The song is part of a collection of songs released in the mark of 30 years after the Yom Kippur war and features a variety of songs from the period, some of which went on to become classics.
It reminds me of where I was 10 years ago on Yom Kippur. My family decided to take advantage of the long weekend and we went down to Eilat. It was surreal but very peaceful and relaxing-there was a really calm atmosphere I had never experienced in Eilat before. One vivid memory I have is from the beach, of my father attentively reading the commemorations about the war he experienced as a child just months after emigrating with his family from Romania. It seems so normal to read the paper at the beach but something about it struck me as strange-maybe the realization that you can't completely disconnect from everyday war-filled reality, which is what trips to Eilat are basically for. So, I feel that now that I have commemorated the war in my own way I'll now switch off the laptop and spend the rest of Yom Kippur reading books I have put aside because of lack of time, not newspapers. And of course I'll go on my annual ghost city walk which always helps me clear my head before the official beginning of the New Year.

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