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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Memory-a-Thon

Yesterday I saw something I have never seen during my commute home from work: A traffic jam. 

I've posted pictures of the terrain through which my commute takes me.  Other than the occasional shepherd crossing the road with his flock of sheep or an Ibex  leaping across the roadway, there is usually nothing standing between me, the speed limit (hee hee) and an hour's worth of music and daydreams.

So, when I came around a curve in the road yesterday and saw a long line of cars sitting at a dead stop... with soldiers and police swarming in the distance, I feared the worst; Either there had been a terrible accident or a terrorist attack. 

Most of the drivers had turned off their cars and stood in the late-afternoon heat asking each other if they had heard any news.  The shrugs and sideways glances told as much as the steady tic tic tic of the cooling engines... nobody knew a thing.

Before too long, a line of cars began approaching us from the opposite direction.  As they passed we looked closely at the faces behind the windshields to see if we could read any information there... a frown... a grimace... anything that would hint at the untold story of what they had just seen.  But the passing faces were inscrutable... a long line of poker players traveling on to play another hand.  At least this meant there was one lane open... so maybe the accident hadn't been too bad.

After almost half an hour of watching the cars wind slowly past the place where we stood, the on-coming traffic slowed to a trickle... and then the last car passed us by, leaving nothing but the desert wind in our ears.

Then we noticed a flicker of movement on the horizon as some of the cars and trucks in our lane came to life and started to move forward. 

It was another 15 minutes before the inch-worm movement of the traffic made it back to where we waited... but by then we were all in our cars with the engines running.... ready to go.

As we drove slowly towards the spot where the road dipped over the horizon we began to see soldiers.... lots of them.  They were wearing full combat gear and scattered on every hilltop... one here... a pair there.... as far as the eye could see. 

Although I worried about what the soldier's presence might mean, I was kicking myself that I hadn't brought my camera with me.  There is something about seeing Jewish soldiers standing with their dusty boots planted on the same hills where Jewish warriors stood thousands of years ago that never fails to get me choked up.  I couldn't have been prouder of such a sight if my own children were among the scattered sentinels.

As the line of cars drew abreast of each soldier's position we noticed two things that put our minds somewhat at ease:  Many of the soldiers had planted their unit flag in the rocky soil near their positions... and most waved and nodded at the cars as we passed.

As I watched the black and green flags snap smartly in the breeze I realized that they would not have brought their flags with them if this were an emergency response... and the cheerful waves and nods indicated that, at least for the moment, all was right with the world.

I unconsciously exhaled a breath that I was unaware I'd been holding.  From each of the cars hands waved at the soldiers standing on the hilltops... and we traveled on to find our answers.

As we approached the point which had previously been our horizon, a group of police made urgent hand signs for us to drive slowly and to drive only in the left lane.  As we rounded the next bend in the road we found out why.

A long line of teeneaged bicyclists were riding in small groups as far as the eye could see.  The road rose imperceptibly into the distance and the cyclists struggled slowly against the grade. 

Many of them had orange ribbons tied to their bikes... but many others did not.  I couldn't imagine this was a protest over disengagement, since out here anyone who was likely to see them was probably already in agreement on the issue... preaching to the choir, so to speak.  But what else could it be?

Mile after mile (er, I mean kilometer after kilometer) I passed scores of cyclists.  I had no idea what they were riding for, but there was an infectious optimism about the riders that had all the passing cars waving and shouting encouragement as we passed.  All along the route, the soldiers looked on from their hilltop positions on either side of the road... and waved along with the passing cars at the kids who sweated up the hills for reasons only they understood.

It wasn't until I got home and turned on the computer that I found out the back-story to what I had seen.  It turns out that over 100 kids had decided to organize a bike ride in memory of their friends Avichai Levy and Aviad Mansour, the two teenagers who had been shot and killed a couple of weeks ago by terrorists while standing on the side of the road waiting for a ride. 

The ride began in Beit Haggai (the site of the attack) and passed Otniel.  These were the two communities where the boys had lived out their short lives.  The riders continued past Otniel and on through Judaen hills... and concluded their journey in the distant community of Susiya.

They could have chosen to march... or organized a caravan of cars.  But intead they chose to ride bikes.  No matter how old or mature you are, there is something inherently childish about riding a bike.  I love that they chose a bike ride to remember two childhood friends.

I'm sure that the heavy police and army presence was mostly to ensure that another tragedy didn't take place (I can only imagine what a tempting target these riders presented to the terrorists)... but the dozens of soldiers also served as a fitting honor guard for the kids during their trek.

I can clearly remember the many walk-a-thons and bike-a-thons in which I participated as a kid.  I'm sure most of you can too.   I can remember the sunny days... the camaraderie... and the sense of accomplishment when we finished. 

What I don't remember so clearly is which causes these exertion-a-thons were meant to benefit.  Maybe Multiple Sclerosis... Breast Cancer... Multiple Dystrophy... I really have no idea. 

Like most kids, I was long on energy and short on interest in the details... making me the perfect fundraiser participant!  Who doesn't want to sponsor a kid for some worthy cause, right?  You toss in a couple of bucks for a good cause and give the kids something to do for a few hours... a win-win for all involved.

Well, these kids weren't raising money... no amount of money would bring back their friends.  They weren't raising awareness... anybody in this part of the world is already acutely aware of the depths to which our enemies will stoop.

This ride was a cathartic exercise for a group of kids who had lost two of their friends in the war.  They were a few years shy of their army service, but the boys and girls on these bikes new perfectly well that they had lost their friends because each and every one of them is viewed by the enemy as a legitimate target in this war... no matter what their age.

As I sit here in my house with my children sleeping two floors above my head, I am still struck by the contrast between the kids I saw on their bikes, and the teenager I once was. 

Like these kids, I rode as part of a worthy cause.  But unlike me... in 30 years these kids will have forgotten the ride itself, but will surely remember why they rode.

[more info about the ride]

221_16_5_28

Posted by David Bogner on July 12, 2005 | Permalink

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[sob]

Posted by: zahava | Jul 12, 2005 1:12:07 PM

[sob] here as well.

"There is something about seeing Jewish soldiers standing with their dusty boots planted on the same hills where Jewish warriors stood thousands of years ago that never fails to get me choked up."

Yes.

Posted by: Lioness | Jul 12, 2005 1:58:27 PM

I'm choked up too, and teary-eyed.

Posted by: Rahel | Jul 12, 2005 2:18:10 PM

....I couldn't help picture Avichai and Aviad smile down on all participants of the 'Memory-a-Thon' from that beautiful blue desert sky.

There’s some sort of significance on seeing an Israeli soldier anywhere in the world, it’s a historic-King David-tough guys thingy... It’s indescribable but it sure as hell leaves me green with envy.

Posted by: kakarizz | Jul 12, 2005 2:28:56 PM

Once again, David, you've given us a full slice of Israeli life. Succinctly described.

"They could have chosen to march...or organized a caravan of cars. But intead they chose to ride bikes. No matter how old or mature you are, there is something inherently childish about riding a bike. I love that they chose a bike ride to remember two childhood friends."

And David, your words speak volumes; no photos of the bike procession required!

Posted by: Pearl | Jul 12, 2005 3:45:37 PM

Very well done.

Posted by: Jack | Jul 12, 2005 4:36:58 PM

Beautifully put. And now the rest of us will have this word-image in our memories, too.

Posted by: AmyS | Jul 12, 2005 5:39:38 PM

amazing. i only wish you had had your camera! but once again your words are so perfect.

Posted by: Lisa Wildroze | Jul 12, 2005 5:41:16 PM

Thank you so much, that was so meaningful.

Posted by: tmeishar | Jul 12, 2005 5:54:11 PM

Beautiful. And I echo the sentiments of the other commenters. They say a picture is worth 1000 words but your words convey images so movingly. Thank you.

Posted by: Essie | Jul 12, 2005 6:15:01 PM

A moving and eloquent post - and thus absolutely no surprise.

You have turned a simple "traffic jam" into an evocative picture of hope and of memory...and so poignantly illustrated the difference between us and our implacable enemies.

Thank you, David.

Posted by: Elisson | Jul 12, 2005 7:31:44 PM

I want a signed copy when you write your first book...you got that?:)

Posted by: Jewish Blogmiester | Jul 12, 2005 10:29:41 PM

Zahava... I'm having a bit of trouble taking your sob too seriously. After all, you cry during commercials. :-)

Lioness... I know that most Israelis would think I'm acting like a tourist to have said this... but I can't help the way I feel.

Rahel... You have no idea how angry I was with myself for not being able to share pictures with this story. You don't understand... I ALWAYS have my camera with me. Just this once I forgot to take it...

Kakarizz... I only wish the army could be a peacetime military and not a combat tested force.

Pearl... So nice of you to say so, but I still wanted to capture that scene for posterity.

Jack... Thank you.

AmyS... This would have made a great 'postcard'. I debated about whether to write about it since I didn't have pictures... but now I'm glad I did. I like your idea of word images.

Lisa... Thank you. You can bet I'm not leaving the house without the camera anymore! :-)

Tmeishar... You are most welcome. It was nice to be able to write about something less stressful for a change. Hameyvin Yavin.

Essie... Thank you. Am I allowed to know what you did on vacation? I promise... last time I'll ask. :-)

Elisson... This was no mere traffic jam. The traffic jam was just the first hint that my commute would not be typical.

Posted by: David | Jul 12, 2005 11:11:00 PM

wow, once again, amazing what you can do with the english language Mr B.

and to think, im going to be in EY in less than 2 months for a whole year, after not going since i was 3...sweet. i wonder how many of these types of experiences ill have.

Posted by: Tonny | Jul 13, 2005 12:00:06 AM

That's why I made aliyah. There is a life here like no other. A life spent living for something, defending something, and believing in something. Kids here are much more "real" then any kid I've met in the States.

Posted by: 2R | Jul 13, 2005 2:20:43 AM

Hevanti - I was actually going to make a reference to it in my comment, but I figured it was time to drop it.

Posted by: tmeishar | Jul 13, 2005 5:36:24 AM

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