I’m in Israel to attend a wedding. Since the bride’s mother is Moroccan, there is a traditional henna ceremony to induce good luck. Relatives gather, paint their hands with henna, and dance to traditional Moroccan music while carrying trays of cookies. Both the men and women wear gold-embroidered costumes; the men also don Fez hats.
Right before this ceremony starts, the bride along with several female friends and relatives, go off to the mikveh (a bathing ritual meant to insure that the bride is clean on her wedding night).
Shortly after they leave the house, sirens blast loudly in Bet Shemesh, where we are staying and where the henna ceremony will take place. I am tempted to run to the cement shelter, which nearly every house in Israel has, but being a visitor from another country I wait for a cue from the other guests for a clue about what to do.
Expecting everyone to run for cover, to my surprise, nobody moves. They are all stunned. Some are accustomed to sirens going off from time to time but here in Bet Shemesh sirens haven’t been heard in in about 20 years; thus the complacency of the guests.
The sirens subside after a short while. In the morning we learn that they sounded because a missile was headed toward Bet Shemesh but was intercepted before it hit the ground.
No laughing being in Israel at this time but I notice that there was humor both in subsequent days and immediately after the attack. For several days with the missiles and sirens continuing, those who have encountered such war-like circumstances for years repeatedly tell me that there was nothing to worry about. First, the missiles rarely hit a specific target and second they rarely do much damage. All of this said with a defiant chuckle and a laughing-off-the-fear attitude.
The most striking example of humor’s tension-relieving ability came at the henna celebration. Right after the sirens stopped, one of the guests immediately called her son in Tel Aviv to find out if he too had been attacked. When she discovered he was outside of the house, she scolded him to quickly go inside. Since everyone was talking in Hebrew, and since I don’t know the language, I was puzzled why everyone laughed at her remarks.
I later found out why. First of all, he was merely walking his dog. And second, even though he was her son, she was treating a 50-year-old grown man as if he was a 10 year old.
The incident illustrated the tension-relieving ability of laughter. It was an indication that we could continue to party and celebrate the forthcoming wedding. It was a validation of what I have often seen in other situations. It is difficult and sometimes impossible to laugh in a crisis, when life is threatened or when we encounter dire news. But once the danger has passed or we have come to terms with our circumstance, the mirth can materialize again.