Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Love Song from Miriam Peretz

As an immigrant and the mother of six sons, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to read Miriam’s Song. I’ve greatly admired Miriam in the last few years, watching her travel to America, speak about her loss, win awards and discuss her past. But it’s one thing to admire someone from afar, and another to actually read their story. Sometimes if you get too close to the fire, you fear that you might just get burned.

But I decided to put aside my personal hesitations, to forget for a moment that I’m the mother of so many who will all join the Israeli Army, and to listen to Miriam’s words; to give her the kavod, the honor, that she deserves by reading her story.


And I was drawn in from the first chapter. I came to realize that, while there are moments in the book that are utterly heart-wrenching, the book is, in essence, a love song.

This is Miriam’s love song for her country, the country to which she arrived as a girl from Morocco.

It’s a love song to the husband that she lost too soon; and a love song to the boys, the boys who sacrificed so much so that we may continue to live in Israel.

Miriam’s background and younger years are compelling enough to have been a book in their own right. From her early days in Casablanca to the Hazterim Immigrant Camp in Be’er Sheva to her marriage to Eliezer and her years in Sharm-el-Sheikh, she has a story to tell long before her children are killed. And this is part of what makes the book so special. Miriam is a true pioneer, although she explains repeatedly through the book that she did nothing special and can’t imagine why so much attention is placed on her. She rose to become the principal of TALI Secular School Number One in Givat Ze’ev and to give of herself to secular students for 27 years.

But, of course, while Miriam’s own life and accomplishments are fascinating, the book is certainly about her sons, Uriel and Eliraz, who fell in battle 12 years apart, while serving in the Israeli Army. And while I dreaded standing too close to the fire, I have wondered how a parent continues to get up each morning, and to deal with her faith, in the face of such loss.

Miriam discusses her sons’ deaths by first recounting their lives; by telling of their faith, their accomplishments and their commitment to the country. She divides the book into sections, first recounting her early years, then an overview of Uriel’s life, of Eliezer’s death, of Eliraz’s life, and of the perspective of her other children and Eliraz’s wife. She finished with sections about more recent years.
The book is quietly composed, beautifully written and easy to read. I was surprised that I didn’t want to, or need to, put it down until Eliraz’s death; and then I put the book away with tears streaming down my face. I walked away, as it had become too much. I was surprised, and felt strangely validated, as I finished the book, to read Miriam explain that many people have felt the need to walk away for a bit, and then to return to finish the story.


Miriam with (from left to right) Avichai, Elyasaf and Eliraz
When Hadas Peretz Eitam recounts her experiences with her brothers’ and her father’s death, she writes, “Strength is something internal that you’re not aware exists inside you until the moment you have to use it. We didn’t overcome, because we were never defeated….That’s the greatness of this nation. You can’t really fall, because there’s something much bigger than you that drives you and carries you with it.”

At the awards ceremony when Miriam won the Menachem Begin Prize for the leadership education program she has created, she had very moving words. She said, 
“You can’t break a spirit. It grows stronger and takes on new forms of giving and dedication, of connection to this land and our heritage. Out of the darkness that visited our family and many other families in Israel, every day I choose to spread light….Each one of us is asked to light his personal light and raise it up high, to join the communal light of our people. Together we can banish the darkness from our lives. We can spread the light through simple, humane acts that are free of self-interest, motivated by faith in truth of this path, by responsibility and by love for people and homeland. These are the lights that build a nation.”
We are, yet again, facing very difficult times in our country. We have lost the best of the best in recent months…weeks…days and it is not always easy to go on and to have faith in what tomorrow brings. Whether we have personally been hit by such tragedies, or whether we are only encountering them on a national and tangential level – they are there all the time.

Miriam’s Song is relevant for anyone who loves Israel; for anyone who has lost a loved one; for anyone who is struggling with their faith for any reason. It is, in many ways, a guidebook about how to deal with personal loss, with collective loss and with our faith in the face of difficulty.

Its quiet grace is truly a love song to her nation, to our nation, and to our future. 

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Miriam's Song is available for purchase on Amazon.

For anyone in the area, Miriam will be speaking in New York from March 10 – 16 under the auspices of OU Israel and Gefen Publishing House. More info on the itinerary will be posted on the book's Facebook page


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