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Tel Aviv Journal: The Baby Stopped Crying When the Siren Sounded

 ... and the dog ceased his barking. I actually began to weep softly only when the siren stopped. It was 11 a.m., Monday, and for two minutes all Israel—but not, I admit, its Arabs—ceased what they were doing and stood, quietly, introspectively, in camaraderie and in remembrance. This was Yom Hazikaron, the memorial day for the Jewish state and the Jewish nation. Ceremonies were held throughout the country—a tiny country, I do not hesitate to remind you—for whose survival 22,867 soldiers had fallen in battle since 1948. Another 2,500 men and women lost their lives to terror during this period.

I was on Sheinkin Street in Tel Aviv, a young people's street, akin to Bleecker in New York or possibly Dupont Circle in Washington, where hip meets the more conventional, possibly with indifference but altogether without hostility. When the siren began everybody stopped, everything stopped. Cars stopped, and drivers got out to stand at attention, more or less. Motorcyclists and bike riders dismounted. Shoppers came out into the street. One woman was still buttoning up the dress she had just tried on in a fashionable boutique. A couple who were kissing cut their kissing short ... but returned to their embrace when the sonorous silence ended.

A friend told me later that on the highways, too, most motorists stopped the engines of their automobiles and trucks: Idling might upset the eerie calm of the moment.

All Israel was quiet, and most Israelis I believe were contemplating their past. Their present. Their future. Would the strong young man with long hair and a ringlet in his nose—the man who runs the fruit juice stand where Sheinkin meets Lord Melchett—have to go to war again? Will he survive? Or be crippled or maimed?

The shadow is over them, no doubt.

The background of their world is tense. The ultra-orthodox, who cannot enjoy life, aside. And the diminishing number of alienated leftist intellectuals who enjoy their alienation as a well-spring of their superiority ... also aside. Plus one more aside: the right which thinks it has to fulfill both prophecy and geography.

This is a sweet society. Sweet to one another, if they also wish to be sweet to themselves.

They look around at their neighbors across each and every one of their frontiers, and they tremble. Not for themselves so much. But for them, the other.

Martin Peretz is editor-in-chief emeritus of The New Republic.

Follow @tnr on Twitter.