When Shalom only means goodbye

October 23, 2010 by

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This year I had a tough Rabin Day.

So many replays of that night, so many archived appearances of Rabin on chat shows, and the speeches he made.

What struck me most was the number of times Rabin talked about Peace. These days it is so rare to hear someone talking about peace.

We hear much talk about “reaching an agreement”, we hear a great deal about recognition and borders and security arrangements and settlements, but I don’t hear anyone talking about peace any more. We talk about methods techniques and procedures to solve the problem, to find an end to the conflict, to divide or not divide the land, but it feels like we’ve forgotten to even dream about what that might look like beyond lines on a map.

Just as I have learned all that I think I know about the United States through Doonesbury, so I learn all I think I know about Israel through the lyrics of the great Shaanan Street and HaDag Nachash. Time was, some five years after the assassination, that their song “Shalom Salaam Peace” was still calling for us to remember. Naively, almost desperately, Shaanan talked to the possibility and reality of peace:

“I’ve seen it,” he pleads, “I was in Australia and I saw that all the people there look good… They look like a kangaroo… they look like koalas…”

Ten years later, and their latest (superb) disc is still calling for peace, but now only in the negative. “War!” they sing in English, “I don’t want no more war. Can’t take it no more!” While pinpointing the problem pretty clearly, they can no longer picture the promised land. They want the headache and the heartache to clear, but can’t even remember what it feels like to live without recourse to pain-killers and escapism.

Sometimes it feels like peace is a painful word here.

Listening again to Rabin’s language only 15 years ago no longer fills me with hope, but a terrible yearning. Who can imagine someone these days talking like Rabin did at the signing of the Peace accord with Jordan?

“As dawn broke this morning and a new day began, new life came into the world. Babies were born in Jerusalem. Babies were born in Amman. But this morning is different. To the mother of the Jordanian newborn: a blessed day to you. To the mother of the Israeli newborn: a blessed day to you. The peace that was born today gives us all the hope that the children born today will never know war between us, and their mothers will know no sorrow.”

That day he concluded with the words that would become a Dag Nachash song that would in turn be forgotten: “Shalom Salaam Peace.”

Sometimes it feels that all Shalom means these days is goodbye.

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