While many restrictions still apply, it is great having students back on campus. The chatter and giggles as the students move around the college create a wonderful buzz which has been absent for a long time. While those of us who remained on campus during the lockdown appreciated the peace and quiet, we did long for the voices and footsteps which have now returned. Not even the masks can muffle the sounds of the students as they settle back into their regular routine. It is a real challenge for both staff and students to get used to this routine. I certainly appreciated my first Shabbat after being back teaching face-to-face. I really embraced the notion, as I am sure many did, of Shabbat being a day of rest. In seeking some inspiration to inject some motivation that will sustain my energy and maintain my momentum, I feel compelled to draw some lessons from ‘Miriam’s Song’ a book authored by Smadar Shir in 2016, based on the true story of Miriam Peretz who many consider a modern-day hero.
Miriam’s son, 1st Lieutenant Uriel Peretz, commander of a Golani Brigade Special Forces unit, dreamed of becoming the first Moroccan Chief of Staff of the IDF (Israel Defence Forces). Unfortunately, his dream was never fulfilled. In November 1998, Uriel was fatally wounded by an explosive device planted by Hezbollah terrorists. He was just 22 years young.
Tragically, in March 2010 Miriam was forced to face another test. Her second son, Major Eliraz Peretz, was killed in an exchange of fire in the Gaza Strip. He died almost twelve years after he had eulogized his older brother. Eliraz, 32, left behind a wife and four children, including a baby just two months old.
Miriam, using every ounce of her inner strength was able to transform the pain of her suffering into positively influencing young adults, both men and women. She visits schools and military bases sharing with them the leadership vision and values demonstrated by her sons throughout their short lives. She remains a symbol of strength and faith.
Miriam’s Song depicts how one woman experienced unspeakable tragedies – the loss of two sons, Uriel and Eliraz, in Israel’s wars, as well as the death of her husband, Eliezer, to a broken heart. Yet Miriam courageously chooses to live a life of hope and optimism as she continues to inspire others with her fundamental message of ‘getting on with life and helping others to do the same’. She offers her story of strength and resilience as a paradigm from the verse in Mishle (Proverbs) 24:16 “For though a righteous person may fall seven times, they will rise again”. It may have been this verse that inspired British rock band, Chumbawamba to release their most successful single in 1997, ‘I get knocked down’. The chorus of which went something like “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down”. This song peaked at No 2 on the UK Singles chart (it also topped the charts in Australia).
Perhaps humerous, but the message is powerful and so true. We have all been knocked down, despite this, we need to get straight back up again. It is this message that inspires Miriam to continue inspiring others. It is a message that applies equally to each and every one of us as well.
In sharing her lived experiences with the readers of this book, Miriam demonstrates how she has integrated her traumatic experiences and associated emotions into her story and is able to live with them in a productive and positive way. She does this, with deep faith in God, and by following a path in which she writes “Every day you wake up, and the question is what do you do with your life, what meaning do you put into it…. Every day I pick myself up by myself, to a new battle for existence.”
One of the lectures Miriam delivers to graduates of the IDF officers’ program is based on values she observed from her two sons and are values which should just as easily apply to us as we resume our new state of normality. She summarises them as follows:
- Always be conscious of where you have come from and know where you are heading.
- Be an example in how you behave and act towards yourself and others.
- Be sensitive, attentive and approachable. Look after those close to you.
- Always strive to improve and assist others to do the same.
- Create a sense of pride in what you do and how you do it.
- Believe in yourself and inspire others to believe in themselves.
There is so much I can quote from this book, but I feel these next few lines are probably the most meaningful and relevant at this point in time. “Every human being was created in order to make the world a bit better than the world it is right now. Every person comes into the world with a mission. For example, I believe that a person who says ‘Good morning’ to a stranger in the street has done something good. With that offhand greeting he (or she) has sent a small ray of light that brightens the stranger’s world. I believe that if we all look inside ourselves, we will find many rays of light. Our job is not to keep them to ourselves, but rather to discover them and spread them. That’s how we make the world a better place”.
Miriam’s messages, to spread light through simple acts of kindness that are free of self-interest, motivated by faith, responsibility and love for our people and our homeland should resonate with everyone, especially as we begin to socialise once again.
Miriam’s words remain timeless and provides us with an opportunity to pause and reflect on what is important as we emerge out of lockdown.
May Miriam’s words provide us with a sense of comfort and reassurance as we wish our Year 12’s Mazal Tov on their graduation (and best of luck in their upcoming HSC Exams), and as we navigate through our final few weeks of the term.
May we continue to choose believing in life, in happiness and in love. May we get back up and make this world a better place.
About the author
Ronnen Grauman is the Acting Head of Jewish Life and Learning at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.