As Israel’s Independence Day approached, an important discussion was taking place within Israeli society about the inclusion of fireworks in public celebratory ceremonies.
Driving the discussion was the understanding that the loud, booming nature of these fireworks is particularly shocking to the thousands of Israeli veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions. mental and emotional issues related to their service in past wars and military missions.
This discussion should be announced for many reasons, but most importantly because it brings to the fore the issue of solidarity with the many victims of PTSD and similar disorders who live with their trauma every day, often even many years after having left the battlefield. As a society that thrives on national identity and community unity, it is imperative that we support these heroic veterans. Properly appreciating the extent of these emotional scars is often very difficult for those who have not experienced similar trauma, and therefore any effort that increases awareness is to be welcomed.
At the same time, this discussion poses complex questions for us that deserve to be asked within the framework of our functioning as a society and, in particular, to what extent are we obliged to take into account or to be “inconvenienced” by the suffering of individuals.
Post-battle trauma invoked by loud sounds manifests differently in different veterans, which raises the question of whether, for example, public performances should refrain from including bass drums lest the deep tones don’t similarly invoke responses from veterans. Should all public events be designed to take into account the emotions or practical needs of audience members with specific challenges that might be triggered by certain sounds, images, etc. ?
The reality is that we each live with some sort of emotional “handicap” whereby something could trigger a negative reaction based on past trauma and would like public events to be designed to avoid those triggers.
We are therefore faced with a very legitimate challenge, both practical and ethical, which needs to be approached with the greatest sensitivity.
As with most ethical dilemmas, there are appropriate ways to approach both sides of the issue.
For the specific case of fireworks (which will also apply to other problems), the underlying opening question should be about the necessity of the practice. How important is it that there are fireworks to effectively celebrate Israel’s independence?
At the same time, the next question must be how detrimental is the mental well-being of the individual to their encounter with these booming noises? Are they causing real emotional harm, or would the person be able to effectively overcome the trauma if they wanted to?
The question becomes one of proportionality. Is the negative impact on these people serious enough to justify this cancellation of the fireworks?
Once we have determined that the harm is indeed significant, then we are in the best position to move forward with the decision.
A second level of analysis, no less important and worthy of discussion, is to know what can be done to “replace” the loss of the fireworks. Are there alternatives to the “joy” and entertainment presented by fireworks? And conversely, if the decision is made to go ahead with the shows, what measures do we put in place to mitigate the harm and discomfort for affected veterans?
It should be recognized that we live in a technologically advanced world where the ability to “light up the sky” dramatically was only previously possible with fireworks, is now achievable through other methods. Laser lights and drones are now able to replicate that sense of wonder and beauty without the traumatic sounds. Although there is likely to be a very considerable cost, these options should be explored where possible.
Whatever the conclusions of this valid analysis, it is essential that we remember the values we are promoting by even bringing this question to the fore – and we must admit that many societies would not even ask these questions.
The reality is that the pain and discomfort that comes with loud fireworks directly harms the very people whose sacrifices are at the heart of what we celebrate on Yom HaAtzmaut.
Without them, no notion of independence and freedom would exist and they deserve our greatest thanks and respect on this everyday day.
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow is director of the Tzohar Center for Jewish Ethics and founder of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization in Israel.