A View from Jerusalem
By Leah Garber, Vice President, Director, JCCA’s Israel Center
Today, the first of the Hebrew month of Av marks the 70th anniversary of the Exodus—symbol of Jewish despair and helplessness in the face of an apathetic world.
Exodus, a packet steamer, carried 4,515 Jewish Holocaust survivors from France to Israel, then known as British Mandatory Palestine. Most of the emigrants had no legal immigration certificates and therefore were denied entry to Israel, their safe haven. After a few days of fighting the British by the shores of Israel, so close to rescue, so close to home, the British Royal Navy seized the ship and deported all its passengers back to Europe, the bloody soil from which they fled, their hopes dashed.
Today is also the first day of Av, the month known as the mourning period for the destruction of both our first and second temples. Today we begin the “nine days,” a period mourning that leads up to Tisha B’Av, the date on which we mark those desecrations. Our sages say that the second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 C.E. for sinat chinam, baseless hatred. The people of Israel were divided into sects, disputing one another, fighting against brothers.
We now are blessed to have our own Jewish homeland. No Jew will ever be denied his or her birthright to enter the safety within Israel’s borders. We are proud of our Jewish sovereignty and its meaning to Jews worldwide, but we haven’t yet completed our mission.
No physical Temple is standing on top of Temple Mount. We lost our holiest place centuries ago due to animosity and malevolence, but with all of our achievements, we haven’t yet overcome our most important enemy—ourselves. As a people, we are fraught with internal disagreements and controversies. We cherish “arguments for the sake of heaven,” our Talmud is built on constructive disagreements, and we continue to relish a certain type of back-and-forth conflict. We take pride in our diversity and pluralism and most of the time see it as a force of strength.
Most of the time.
The Jewish world today is facing one of its most disturbing internal breaks. Just beneath the site where our holy Temple—once a proud symbol of unity—stood 2,000 years ago, a drama that drives our people apart plays out. Many in the Jewish world feel that diversity isn’t a blessing anymore, that their beliefs and interpretations of Jewish values are not accepted. That their right to celebrate Jewish life according to their will is denied at the Kotel, that remnant of our Temple.
But it is not only our own conflicts about this sacred space that tear at us. At the same Temple Mount, holiest place to Jews and Muslims, is a source of renewed conflict and bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians. Ten days ago, on a Friday—the Muslims world’s day of rest and prayers—when the mount was packed with Muslim worshipers, an Arab Israeli terrorist murdered two Israeli border police. Israel’s reaction included strengthening the security measures at the Temple Mount, a decision that has led to renewed riots and tension.
A week later, on Friday evening, the sun set and Shabbat began. The Solomon family of the small village of Halamish was getting ready for the holiest day of the week. Tova lit Shabbat candles with her extended family, all gathered to celebrate the birth of a new grandson. She must have whispered her own private prayer, thanking God for her good fortune, surrounded by her growing family. She did not know that a vicious murderer was already on his way, planning to kill innocent people at their home. The 19-year-old Palestinian from a nearby village burst into the Solomon’s home armed with a large knife and began stabbing the family as they were enjoying their Shabbat eve meal. Yosef, 70, his daughter Chaya, 46, and his son Elad, 36, and father of five were killed immediately, leaving a white tablecloth stained forever with the color of hatred.
The second Temple was destroyed for baseless hatred; redemption will come upon us when we demonstrate baseless love, endless love. We must gather around this love, the ultimate force, to stand united and determined against our enemies, who have no respect toward their own sacred times and place, nor towards ours.
The beginning of a new month is a holiday. It is difficult to celebrate when another Jewish family has been destroyed. And yet, our ability to once again rise from our mourning with hope—hope for spiritual peace among ourselves and peace between us and our neighbors, is what has kept us going throughout our history.
May Yosef, Chaya and Elad be of a blessed memory, may we all be blessed with peace; and may this year’s Ninth of Av remind us our strength, values, and moral obligations.