Grammar in times of war

JULIAN RESNICK writes from Israel

I have always loved grammar.

Conjunctions; participles; nouns; adjectives; adverbs; even gerunds.

Possibly because I studied Latin in high school. I remember conjugating verbs and declining nouns (or was it adjectives?).

Recently I visited our cousins from Kibbutz Zikim (You all know that I live in Israel, I assume) on Kibbutz Ma’alei Hachamisha, where they, and hundreds of other refugees from the brutal attacks by Hamas on October 7th, are begin housed.

They are the lucky ones.

They are not dead.

They are not hostages in Gaza.

And yet…

They are surrounded by tens of volunteers doing everything they can to help. There are young people from the Youth Movements doing activities with the children; there is a huge room with second-hand clothes as they left quickly, quietly, so as to avoid the hungry guns of the terrorists (hungry to murder babies, children with special needs, very old people, women – freedom fighters???? Seriously!!!??); there is a woman with a sewing machine – a lovely Bernina – doing alterations, so that the second-hand clothes fit; there are massage therapists; a room for the little children to play, for old people to relax together; there is coffee and tea.

And yet…

When my cousins’ three children saw me, I got the biggest hugs ever.

I love grammar and that is why I think that the tenses being used – that I am using – disturb me so much.

I travel the world to tell the Jewish story. I stand in Vienna, in Berlin, in Krakow, in Budapest, in Prague, in Toledo, in Lisbon, in Marrakech, and use almost only the past tense (in all its many beautiful possibilities: past, past perfect – pluperfect to some – past continuous, but always past). As the massacres were happening, and before I got home from Greece, I stood in Ioannina with Allegra, in Veria with Eva, in Saloniki with Hella. and we talked in the past tense almost all of the time; and we wept when I recounted the story of Yehudah Poliker’s return to his father’s home town, Saloniki, and when I recited the names of the children killed in Be’eri, in Nahal Oz, in Sderot in the very empty synagogue in Veria.

And I talk of where Jews “once prayed, sang, danced, had a coffee.”

Where Jews (I often use the pronoun “we” instead of the proper noun, “Jews”) were taken away, rounded up, were shot, separated from their children.

I sometimes mention how other people stood by and did nothing, refused to believe, were incredulous. and I mention those who helped, stepped forward.

“We were murdered,” I say.

“The world stood by,” I say.

“We were torn from our homes,” I say.

“This was one of the worst times
in the history of humanity,” I say.

And being who I am, I shed many a tear as I speak; I choke up at the thought of innocent children, not really understanding what is happening, being torn away from those who love them.

As we love our children. Remember when Golda, said, “Peace will come when they love their children more than they hate us.”

And now, the tense has changed.

It is all present tense. The simple present tense; present continuous tense verbs are being used all the time.

“We are under attack right now.”

“We are being killed/murdered.”

“Our children/young people are being held hostage in Gaza.”

It hurts so much. It hurts so much.
It hurts so much.

This present tense hurts even more than the past tense.

Julian Resnick was born in Somerset West and grew up in Habonim Dror. He studied at UCT, and made Aliyah in 1976. He’s conducted numerous shlichuyot and educational missions on behalf of Israel, to Jewish communities in England and the USA. He works as a guide in Israel and around the world (wherever there is a Jewish story). He’s married to Orly, and they have three children and seven grandchildren and is a member of Kibbutz Tzora.

• Published in the November 2023 issue – Click here to start reading.

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