There are those sounds, that when heard, instantaneously rouse within us trenchant thoughts and emotions frequently relegated to the deepest recesses of our psyche. While sound affects us in many ways, its psychological effects are undeniably the most profound. According to Jean-Luc Nancy, the French philosopher, “Sonority is both time and meaning.” Like no other sense, sound animates our consciousness and situates us within the sequence of our individual lives.
What happens when a collective hears the same sound? While each may be affected in varying degrees, every individual member is transported on his or her own associative journey. Does the deeper and highly individual reaction to the shared stimulus mean that the bands of collective unity dissipate? Or does the collective experience provide a security and confidence for deeper and more meaningful introspection, thereby intensifying the experience on multiple levels?
On Sunday, and then again on Monday, such a sound will be heard across the State of Israel. The wail of the air-raid sirens will once again pierce the ears of everyone within her borders. This will include people who deeply identify with its overarching significance, as well as many people who do not, and are even hostile to its purpose. Regardless, Israel will usher in what is arguably the most difficult day of the year: The Day of Remembrance for Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism. National ceremonies will be held on Mount Herzl and at the Western Wall, memorial services will be held at military cemeteries across the country, and radio and television programming will be completely dedicated to the subject at hand — the fallen.
In the minutes leading up to the clarion calls, those who identify with the experience will cease conversations, find a place to park, and otherwise ready themselves to engage in a collective activity of solemnity and consequence. As the pealing cry of the siren crescendos to its full intensity, the disparate countrywide throng will coalesce into a unified assembly, a living memorial completely abstract, but also profoundly literal.
This memorial will not be a static edifice to be contemplated, rather it will be a living memorial that epitomizes the depth of one’s identification with a people, a country, a history and a mission. This is what the eminent Jewish sociologist Maurice Halbwachs who died in Buchenwald taught us. Beyond our highly personal individual memories, there lay a collective societal memory that when engaged, binds us together in a transcendent continuum. For Jews, this is not a foreign notion. Jewish history is a participatory event.