Society for Cultural Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Bereavement and commemoration of deceased soldiers form an important aspect in Israeli society and has been a central and recurrent topic in academic literature. Nonetheless, this literature mainly focuses on bereavement and commemoration at Mt. Herzl, Israel's national cemetery. Moreover, recent changes in commemoration practices and burial options have yet to be addressed.
Based on an ethnographic research of diverse Israeli military cemeteries, I portray various family members' non-discursive practices; ones that challenge the national-Jewish-Israeli ideology that sanctify the sacrifice of the deceased soldiers. For example, they add an alternative headstone that obscures the regular military-monotone inscription. They plant cyclamens instead of typical cemetery plantings (e.g., rosemary). They add personal artifacts and belongings that serve the deceased soldiers when they are alone at the cemetery. They share holiday meals with the whole family in attendance at the cemeteries. And they talk with the absent sons and daughters; updating them on diverse occurrences in their lives, including them in their day to day lives.
I conclude that these non-discursive practices construct an agency for the sons and daughters; filling their absence with a present and ongoing agency. The subjectivity of the deceased soldiers is extinguished; they are biologically dead. However, their family members construct an agency for them; based on their personal preferences; their wishes and their aspirations for the future; a present agency that is independent of their absence. Moreover, in praxis, they express a protest against the Israeli ideology that glorifies the death of young people for the country.