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Shanah Tovah to the Guards and Soldiers

Shanah Tovah to the Guards and Soldiers

Tonight we celebrate Rosh HaShanah, one of my favorite Jewish holidays - though each is my favorite in its own way.

What is it about Rosh HaShanah that makes this one my favorite? Without a doubt, it's the memories of celebrating the holiday in Israel. What kid wouldn't love spending time with family? Dipping apples in honey? Eating delicious pomegranates? Sending and receiving shanah tovah ("happy new year") cards?

Above all, though, I remember most fondly the Rosh HaShanah songs I sang as a kid. My favorite, "Shanah Tovah," was written by Levin Kipnis, a prolific writer of children's stories and poems, who had been told that there weren't enough holiday songs in Hebrew for Jewish children to sing in the nursery schools of the Yishuv (Jewish settlements in Palestine prior to establishment of the state).

A simple song with only a few verses, Shanah Tovah is exceedingly popular and likely to be most people's answer when asked to name a Rosh HaShanah song.

A year has left, a year came
I raise my hands,
Shanah tovah to you, Father,
Shanah tovah to you, Mother,
Shanah tovah, shanah tovah!

Shanah tovah to a brave uncle
Who is on guard duty
And to every guard, in the city, in the village,
A "be strong" blessing is sent
Shanah tovah, shanah tovah!

Shanah tovah, brave pilot,
Riding up in the sky,
And much peace, Hebrew sailor,
Making his way in the water,
Shanah tovah, shanah tovah!

Shanah tovah to every worker
In the field and in construction
A good and sweet year
To every girl and boy!

Shanah tovah, shanah tovah!

Israeli kids - myself included - have sung this song for decades. As a kid, though, I don't remember thinking about the meaning of the song. In fact, there were some words that I didn't even understand back then, but when I look at the lyrics of "Shanah Tovah" today, I do so from a whole new perspective.

For example, after greeting one's parents with a "shanah tovah" in the first verse, I would expect that in the second verse, friends, or siblings would be the ones receiving a "shanah tovah." In fact, the second verse is for the soldiers, for the guards, for whomever protects one's life. Although I admit that after so many years I didn't quite remember all the words to this song, I did remember this verse perfectly:

Shanah tovah to a brave uncle
Who is on guard duty
And to every guard, in the city, in the village,
A "be strong" blessing is sent
Shanah tovah, shanah tovah!

Israeli kids have been singing this song for nearly a century, wishing a "shanah tovah" to the country's soldiers before their friends. Today's Israeli preschoolers, even if they don't know many Hebrew words, do know they need to sing "Shanah Tovah" to brave uncles, soldiers, and guards. Many of these kids spent their summer vacation in bomb shelters, fearful, sad, and relying on these very same uncles, heroes, and soldiers to protect them and ensure a quiet school year.

Older kids - including my 7-year-old cousin, whose pictures my aunt posted on Facebook - often draw pictures to send to the soldiers at the front, asking them to take care of themselves and of Israel, their home. It makes me sad that all these kids grow up knowing entirely too much about soldiers, tanks, and the sound of missile attacks.

I'm sure that this year, in preschool and elementary schools across Israel, teachers will put a lot of emphasis on this verse. I'm sure, too, that when this verse is sung in classrooms around the country, one kid will stop the whole group to relay a story about his uncle the hero, or about her brother or sister serving in the army, or about a mother or father called to reserve duty.

May this year be the last one in which Israeli kids have to worry about the soldiers, and may it be the last year in which the soldiers have to worry about the kids whom they are charged to protect.

May this year bring peace and quiet to the country - and happiness to her kids and to her soldiers.

Shanah tovah!

Lior Olinik is a shaliach (emissary) at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, MD, where he participates in all aspects of congregational life. In this role, he spends the summer at URJ Camp Harlam.

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