The reviewer’s copy of Miriam’s Song has been floating around the house for days. It was passed from hand to hand during the holidays and scanned by family members over the Sabbath. Photos of national icon and author Miriam Peretz are scattered throughout the book: Miriam with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with President Reuven Rivlin … even in a hug with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Each time the promise was made to pass it on ‘when the review is finished.’ The list of readers demanding that book is as long as the entire apartment.
It was ready for review a while ago. But how does one describe the world of a whisper, a prayer, a cry filled with grief, a confident embrace of support for countless others and yet a scream of defiance too?
Miriam Peretz does all that and more in her account of how she managed to survive the loss of her two sons in combat — one after the other, both serving in the Golani Brigade — and her husband whose heart she said “could simply stand no more” and yet motivate herself to move on and lead others.
The mother of six speaks of her children, all of whom served and serve in the Israel Defense Forces, most as members of the elite Golanis.
She speaks of her childhood, how she immigrated to Israel with her parents as a child from Morocco, her years growing up in the south and her struggle to learn how to become an educator. Her courtship and marriage to her wonderfully patient, wise husband.
That first moment of pride seeing her oldest son in uniform, watching him grow to become an IDF officer. The first life-crushing experience when an IDF delegation came to say he’d never come home again, alive.
The battle faced by her life partner with a life-threatening illness that drained his vitality but not his determination – until the last moment when he too could fight no more.
The day she learned her second son was determined to follow his older brother’s footsteps: could she deny him his dream? And yet, the price she paid for her willingness to allow him that chance, the day she stood at the cemetery facing his newly-dug grave alone, without the support of her husband beside her.
The dilemma of no longer knowing which grave to visit “first” on Memorial Day: the guilt she felt that day. It is this last that perhaps is the most heartbreaking of all: for in this, Miriam is but one of thousands. How many wives and mothers and daughters join her in this horrific nightmare – whose grave to visit “first” this year at Mount Herzl’s military cemetery on Israel’s Memorial Day?
Father? Husband? Brother? Son? Daughter? Sister, Wife? Mother?
There they lie, our courageous, fearless veterans of every defensive war our battered but unbowed nation has ever fought. Without any hesitation they don their uniforms, shoulder their weapons and set off to their units with a chuckle and a grin, maybe a hug for the little ones, a whispered reassurance for an older child or a mother or a wife. None of them ever know when or if they will return. That is written Upstairs in the Big Book.Hana Levi Julian