Friday, July 4, 2014

Meir Ariel-Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue

Monday feels like weeks ago. It was a pretty normal day-I met up with a friend at the flea market in Yaffo-on my way to the bus I caught a glimpse of the World Cup match screening at one of the bars and I also saw by a kiosk that someone had posted the newspaper from the day after Gil-ad, Neftali and Eyal were kidnapped. The newspaper was already yellow and I wondered why it was there-to raise awareness among tourists? Maybe to keep it in the minds of passerby as it was starting to feel that the story was losing attention. When I got on the bus I turned on the internet in my phone and immediately received a notification from my Haaretz app: the bodies of the kidnapped boys were found. I looked around the bus to see if the other passengers knew but it was hard to tell because everyone was staring at their phones or looking outside. But I did make eye contact with an elderly orthodox man-I can't say for sure if he knew but his eyes were so hollow and sad expressing grief and disbelief. I gave a small nod to him and was saddened not only by what had happened but also that it took a tragedy to make simple eye-contact with an orthodox man. By the time I got off the bus the news had replaced the World Cup and the streets were eerily empty. But there was one guy who quickly walked past me "Did you hear about the boys?" he said on the phone, "My mom started to cry, I've never seen her cry like that...I'm so...I'm so furious!!" and the way he walked suggested that indeed every inch of his body was furious. I was amazed how he was able to muster so much negative energy when all I could feel was weakness. At home there wasn't much to do but watch the news which jumped from interviews with mourning friends of the families to debates and analyses in the news studios while the Cabinet held an emergency meeting and we were all trying to guess what they would decide. One man in the studio said in a very calm voice that Hamas must be brought down and eliminated-a small reaction will only trigger more violence. "The question is-is that possible?" a journalist asked and it's a very important question to ask, especially when taking into account the international field and the fragility of the region. Not to mention what could happen the day after...After a very heated debate the cabinet decided on a limited air strike in Gaza after the day's rocket attacks. For many the reaction wasn't strong enough and they demanded revenge. Instant revenge. I was nauseated by all the hatred on the internet and demands for the murderers to be killed quickly became hatred for Arabs in general and then for those who opposed their views. The next day I watched the funeral and was in awe of how calm everyone was. It was clear that there was no intention for these boys to become martyrs, instead the funeral was about closure, a chance for the families to say their goodbyes together with the thousands who came and really with the whole country. Unfortunately this sense of solidarity was interrupted by reports of extreme right-wing activists in Jerusalem, demanding revenge, harassing Arabs, and confronting with the police. I was sure that this was as worse at it would get but the next day I learned that a 16 year old Palestinian from Jerusalem had been kidnapped and murdered. It was unclear whether the motives were criminal or nationalistic but before the body was even taken for examination the Palestinians in East Jerusalem began to riot and Hamas intensified its rocket attacks from Gaza (more than 20 were fired only today). It's horrific to think that the motive was nationalistic and yet, taking into account the tense atmosphere, it's a grim possibility. I must mention that there have also been anti-violence demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv mourning victims on both sides with thousands of participants from both sides of the political map.
A few years ago I clicked "like" on Meir Ariel's facebook page. I wasn't expecting much because Meir Ariel tragically died from typhus in 1999-I just wanted to share my love for his music. But the managers of the page have successfully managed to keep his legacy alive (I think he's more popular today than when he was alive) and often post his songs, especially when it seems relevant-and really any time is relevant for a Meir Ariel song. They posted this song on Wednesday and sadly, it fit the day perfectly. Words can't describe how deeply Meir is missed. He was able to create deep connections with so many different listeners, capturing with his playful use of language the complexity of life here, as well as universal problems and all in an effortless manner. You just want to hang out with him, hear what he has to say. I recently saw the famous 1987 "campaign tour" in which he travelled the country together with his bandmates Yehuda Eder, Miki Shaiv, Yoav Kutner and Rae Mociach. The documentary, available on youtube and worth seeing even if you don't understand the language, captures their performances in remote southern peripheries and in front of army troops as well as conversations on the road. One of the most memorable of them is when they talk about Judaism and he says to Kutner that he doesn't really feel at home in the secular society, the only situation in which he feels at home is 'the love of people', the company of people, talking with them on some kind of basis of equality while forgetting as much as possible that such a problem exists" (min. 42).  I think that this song can be understood on its own but there are a lot of nuances which could use a bit of explanation so I translated parts of Tal Belo's analysis (along with other interpretations) which relies on religious context-a world that is quite foreign to me.

Pursuer of justice Jimmy and Dean pursuer of peace(1)
Meet at the red pit
Peace and justice are hiding in the darkness
Lying silently in a puddle(2)
A puddle of intoxication in the darkness of blood
Or a dark intoxication in a puddle of blood(3)
Pursuer of justice Jimmy plays the harmonica
And Dean pursuer of peace taps on a can
And each sings his own song

Justice justice you shall pursue
Ask for peace and pursue it
Ask for peace and pursue it
Justice justice you shall pursue(4)

Dean peace throws to Jimmy justice
"Are you aware that justice sounds like trigger?"(5)
Jimmy justice spits to Dean peace
"Just as peace sounds like dream"(6)
Dean whistles to Jimmy "for you justice is a trunk
Which has a licence to rummage in my closet"(7)
Jimmy creaks to Dean: "for you peace is three
Blind, deaf, dumb and Shulman will pay"(8)
And again each sings his own song

Justice, justice you shall pursue...

And here they rise pursuer versus pursuer
Chuckle lightly and evaporate
In a dark poodle in a red pit(9)
No wonder justice escapes no wonder peace escapes(10)

And God will ask the pursued
Will not accept with, will not justify the
Drifter to the innocent(11)

How much longer? It's difficult to answer...
Those who despair go to Tel Aviv
She will give him delusion services on the spot
Like water in Neve Tzedek. shade from the Shalom Tower
This Shalom Tower on the junction of Hertzl and Ahad Ha'am(12)
(Who by the way were opponents in their time)

But the chuckle of Marlon Brando
In the face of Martin Sheen's rifle(13)
Remains like a record of greatness
For Jimmy and Dean
Who still each sings his own song...

Justice justice you shall pursue...

(1)-Possible reference to 'Din Rodef'-law of the pursuer
(2) Meir understands the complexity of making justice. A man who feels over-righteousness, peace will not be in his house.
(3) A person addicted to justice, like an alcoholist, will meet puddles of blood.
(4) "Justice justice you shall pursue" is found in parashat Shoftim and "Ask for peace and pursue it" is found in Tehilim 34. There is tension between the two, should you be just? should you be smart? Should you give up for peace or fight for justice?
(5) Peace challenges justice by hinting a light hand on the trigger.
(6) Justice challenges peace by hinting the loss of substance in peace as if it can only happen in a dream.
(7) Everyone has skeletons in their closet which can be rummaged. Is that the meaning of justice-rummaging?
(8) A legend from Haifa tells of a delinquent, a giant named Shulman. He is called by all "Shulman will pay" for he is a friendless giant, who would enter restaurants and order half of the diners to taste, on his bill, delicacies, in an attempt for them to like him. When waiters would ask to whom to serve the bill he would answer: "Shulman will pay". But Shulman never paid when the bill came, he would hit the owner with such strength that the waiters would pass out. They had to call many policemen to lie him down, as he was so strong.
Is it required in order for there to be peace for a man to be without senses? Blind, deaf, dumb?)
(9) The confrontation between peace and justice begins.
(10) In the confrontation between two values of such centrality the chance that both will be lost is high)
(11) "God asks the pursued" is found in the book of Kahelet, 3-16, and describes the relation of God to a pursued man. Private keeping which does not demand values like peace or justice. From God's view sometimes big words create big sins and God prefers to help the one who is pursued, whether he is righteous or evil.
(12) Ahad Ha'am stood at the head of Cultural Zionism (which saw the state of the Jews solely as a spiritual center) while Hertzl was the leader of Political Zionism (which tried to create a country for all the Jews of the world). In a song depicting eternal confrontations, Meir ironically notes the fact that the Shalom Tower stands at the corner of the streets named by the two opponents.
(13) Scene from Apocalypse Now

 Hoping for a quiet weekend and good luck Columbia!


  1. Thank you and please keep on posting your comments and musical choices. They are a fascinating way for someone outside of Israel to get an intimate view of how one person views what is currently happening with respect to Israeli society and culture. Plus, its great to be introduced to Israeli music and musicians that we might not normally have heard of.