YEHUDA Wiener was a young soldier in the Israeli army when he was killed by Egyptian gunfire in the Sinai Desert during the War of Attrition in a tank battle in 1968 – just five weeks after his 19th birthday.
Older brother Ehud Manor put his grief into words by penning a tribute to him, the opening stanza declaring, “Next year we will sit on the balcony and count all the migrating birds,” while the chorus optimistically cries: “You will see, you will see, how good it will be next year.”
Ehud then approached musician Nurit Hirsch and invited her to put his poetry to music – but significantly omitted to inform her of the pain that lay behind the poignant lyrics. Hirsch composed a spirited melody which, added to the moving personal tribute, became one of those iconic Israeli songs, synonymous with the nation’s fraught history, yet universally known for its catchy tune. Bashana Haba’a is traditionally belted out every Rosh Hashanah, both as an uplifting memorial to loved ones whose lives have been cruelly cut short, while at the same time expressing unbridled hope that next year, the new year, will be so much better.
The balcony motif had a stirring echo at 5.30pm on a recent balmy Sunday evening in Jerusalem when kippah-wearing Ran Yehoshua connected his guitar to an amplifier, took up position on the balcony of his modest apartment and launched into Bashana Haba’a. With hundreds of adjacent apartments facing inwards onto a narrow cul-de-sac, neighbours quickly poured onto their own balconies to join in the spirit and add their voices to the occasion, some climbing onto roofs, children dancing and one resident enhancing the pop-up concert with his own electric guitar.
Yehoshua had canvassed the heartwarming initiative on a WhatsApp group as a creative response to the COVID-19 crackdown which Israel has imposed on most public activities, including restricting gatherings to 10 people. The manager of a not-for-profit organisation which cares for abused children, his objective in bringing the neighbourhood together was to dispense positivity and good cheer in the wake of the enforced cancellation of many of the healing programs which he runs. “Singing always helps us feel better,” he told The Times of Israel. “It’s a way into prayer.”
The balcony theme subsequently took on a unique Israeli dimension when tens of thousands of people right across the country, from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to Petach Tikva, Nahariya and myriad communities in between, emerged onto their balconies at a prearranged time one evening to express heartfelt appreciation for the nation’s frontline medical professionals who are tasked with battling the coronavirus crisis. For two full minutes they applauded and cheered. The resounding sentiment reverberated throughout the country, with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participating in the demonstration, which had been promoted on news outlets, including social media and the Reuters international service.
These inspirational moments have had parallels in numerous countries, including Italy, Lebanon and even in Wuhan, China – where this nightmare originated – with thousands of residents of high-rise apartment blocks taking to their windows and balconies and filling their streets and neighbourhoods with rousing songs.
Creative Jewish responses to the pandemic have even manifested in the West African nation of Senegal, where Rabbi Ariel Fisher – based in the capital of Dakar while his wife conducts research for a doctorate in anthropology – will bring Pesach to the nation’s tiny Jewish community as its members won’t be travelling anywhere. With the nearest kosher outlet 1600 kilometres away in Morocco, he plans to source matzah and kosher wine from local Israeli and American diplomats. If that doesn’t work, he will appeal to South Africa’s Jewish community, and if that option fails he will bake the matzah himself, using locally grown wheat.
But the most original comment on the crisis to date is surely the one which came from all of 350 kilometres above planet Earth, when American-Swedish astronaut Jessica Meir, currently circling the Earth on board the International Space Station with three Russians and two other Americans, took a photograph of Tel Aviv – where her Iraqi-born Jewish father was raised – from outer space. Orbiting the Earth every 92 minutes, the six astronauts have been travelling in space since September 25, 2019.
Flying high over Israel, Meir posted the following pertinent tweet: “Gazing down at the city in which my father was raised, I take to heart one of his most uttered expressions: ‘This too shall pass.’ Wise words to remember in both good times and bad. Goodnight #TelAviv #Israel! #GoodnightFromSpace #TheJourney #EarthStrong.”
Vic Alhadeff is CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.