It’s difficult to articulate the many emotions that I am feeling as Israel battles against the evil of Hamas. As a life-long Zionist and lover of Israel – not just the State but what Israel stands for – it’s frustrating to watch Israel defend itself from Hamas missiles and from a world media that skews anti-Israel. So instead of focusing my thoughts on political or media analysis I prefer to look to Jewish tradition to frame my thoughts.
We are about to observe the Tisha B’Av fast day which commemorates the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. Other cataclysmic events in Jewish history are associated with this date as well such as the expulsion of the Jews from Spain on July 31, 1492 and the Holocaust – the start of the WWII on September 1, 1939. Historically then on Tisha B'Av we reflect upon the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile from Israel. The rabbis would also have us think about why those events happened. They say that the second Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam – the random hatred of members of the Jewish community for one another.
As we mourn on Tisha B’Av and come to terms with the historical loss of our homeland and communal animosity I am heartened by 2 events that happened this summer. I was fortunate to lead a shul trip to Israel from June 22-July 9 the highlight of which was celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of our own Stephen Freedman. The service was held at the new egalitarian Kotel which is a platform set up under what is known as Robinson’s Arch. It is an area that is at the convergence of the western and southern walls of the Temple Mount from which one can see the actual boulders the Romans rolled off the top 2,000 years ago and one can see the archways of the stalls on the Cardo from which vendors sold pigeons and other animals for sacrifice in the Temple. There is also a boulder that has a directional sign chiseled in it pointing to beit hatekiyot – the shofar blower section! Therefore it was incredibly meaningful to celebrate a Bar Mitzvah and show that 2,000 years later Jews are still alive and Jerusalem is rebuilt.
On Monday July 28, my first day back from vacation, I had the privilege of participating in what was called the National Leadership Assembly held at the National Press Club in DC. It was sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Federations of North America and the JCRC. It brought together Jews of all denominations and affiliations the highlight being Reconstructionist, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis on the dais together reciting prayers for the Israeli soldiers and peace in Israel. As we know, it’s not that common to see all these rabbis together and it was heartening for those in attendance to see differences being ignored for the sake of the community.
We can feel comforted this Tisha B’Av knowing that we can celebrate Judaism in a rebuilt and thriving Jerusalem and we can be consoled this Tisha B’Av knowing that in times of crisis our community becomes united and strong. The opposite of sinat chinam is ahavat chinam – random love. May the day come when we can exhibit love and kindness to everyone in the Jewish community all the time. And may peace come to Israel soon.