Israeli war songs, and even army slang, tend to be filled with horticultural imagery. Noting something similar in the way Canadians have memorialized World War I, Matti Friedman finds something universal:
[The Yom Kippur War] was behind one of [Israel’s] best-known memorial songs, written by a woman from a kibbutz called Beit Hashittah. Dorit Zameret wrote “The Wheat Sprouts Again” after the 1973 conflict consumed eleven men from her tiny community in the space of three weeks, a blow like the one suffered by those Newfoundland hamlets that lost all their young men on the first day of the battle of the Somme in 1916.
“The Wheat Sprouts Again” talks about the resilience of nature, which the author finds amazing and not entirely welcome. . . . This [sort of] language isn’t limited to Israeli songs. When I was drafted [into the IDF] at the age of nineteen and found myself serving as an infantryman in a small guerrilla war in south Lebanon, I discovered that the army’s radio code for casualties was “flowers.” Dead soldiers were “cyclamens.” . . .
The language I encountered here seemed unique. But just a few years before, [as a Canadian teenager], I’d been standing in a school cafeteria, the gray skies of a Toronto November out the window, reciting these lines, which I still know by heart, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row . . .”.
World War I poetry, at least the British variety, is full of flowers. . . . Outside Israel, the use of floral euphemisms to mask the worst we inflict upon each other seems to have faded, though echoes remain. To honor dead soldiers Canadians wear a pin shaped not like a dead soldier, but like a poppy. Here in Israel, the old pastoral language remains very much in use. It suggests a universal response to a universal kind of heartbreak—the absence of some young person that will persist long after the war, and the reasons for it, have faded.
Sign Up For Our E-Mail List Get the latest from Mosaic right in your inbox
Sign up now for unlimited access