Today, the 10th of Av, our family marks five years since arriving in Israel – our “Aliyaversary.”
Our experience in the Jewish state has been blessedly wonderful, on balance. We have surmounted myriad linguistic, cultural, and religious challenges; extracted ourselves and our children from our comfort zone; absorbed the sights, insights, tastes and flavors of Israel; celebrated bar mitzvahs, weddings, and births of friends and family; consoled mourners and parents of wounded soldiers and civilians; sheltered in our miklat from oncoming rockets; welcomed countless family members and reconnected with many old friends; and generally begun the process of becoming Israeli or, as our friend David Abell beautifully puts it, fulfilling our Jewish destiny.
But while over the last five years we’ve flourished here as a family, and while Israel has blossomed around us in almost every conceivable way, we mustn’t forget the many challenges the Jewish state continues to face along religious, political, and socio-economic lines. And there’s no better day to reflect on Israel’s promise and challenges than the 10th of Av, normally a day of relief and happiness following Tisha B’Av, but this year the day we mark the fast itself and the tragedies it encompasses.
I’ve always struggled to relate personally to the destruction of the Temple, and all the more so since we’ve moved to Israel. After all, with Jewish sovereignty achieved and Jews around the world free to worship and build a society in our historic homeland, what’s left to mourn over? When we can literally pray at the Kotel itself by the tens of thousands on Tisha B’Av itself, what exactly are we crying about?
A lot, it turns out.
Over Shabbat, Rav Chanan Atlas, our newly-installed rabbi at Bet Knesset Ohel Ari in Ra’anana, urged us to recall that, even as the Jewish people worldwide enjoys arguably its greatest flourishing since the time of King Solomon, tragedy doesn’t lie far in our rearview mirror, and there may be plenty of trouble ahead.
Tisha B’Av famously commemorates not only the destruction of both Temples but also the end of Jewish sovereignty for two thousand years, the onset of the First Crusade (1096), Jewish expulsions from England (1290), France (1306), and Spain (1492), the beginning of World War I (1914), the deportation from the Warsaw Ghetto (1942), and, more recently, the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires (1994).
We forget these horrible events at our peril, and only by balancing the difficulty of our past, the prosperity of our present, and the fragility of our future can we forge a more just, fair, inclusive society.
It would be the height of arrogance, Rav Atlas argued, for us to assume that Bayyit Shlishi Lo Yecharev – the Third Temple will never be destroyed, that the new Jewish republic will never falter, in the formulation of the Midrashic manuscript published in the late 19th century by Solomon Buber. It could well be that God will ensure Jewish continuity in Israel and will enable us to rebuild the Temple, but even if so, we cannot count on such a providential contingency and must instead live our lives, build our country, and better ourselves as if our very existence depends on our individual and communal virtue.
We in Israel have achieved nothing short of an economic, military, religious, social, and cultural miracle over the last 70-plus years, a society and country in which all Israelis can justifiably take pride. In so many ways we have advanced far beyond most Western countries. But we still have a long way to go in easing religious-secular divisions, ensuring all sectors of Israeli society – Arab, Haredi, Ethiopian, and Ashkenazi alike – enjoy the opportunity to succeed, improving our primary and secondary educational systems, and reaching an accommodation with our neighbors, all with an Iranian nuclear threat looming over us.
In conclusion, Rav Atlas called our attention to an op-ed piece written in Davar exactly 85 years ago to the day by Zionist founding father Berl Katznelson in which, amid the cauldron of the 1934 Yishuv, he emphasizes the critical importance of connecting our current experience to the suffering of the past in order to enhance our future (and please pardon my shoddy translation):
What possible value is there to a liberation movement unmoored from its past which, instead of deepening our connection to our roots, blurs our memories? Would we ever have merited the nationwide resuscitation we’re currently undergoing had we not stubbornly clung to our national memory of the Temple’s destruction? … Had the Jewish people not mourned the loss of the Temple for thousands of years, with all the vividness of one before whom a dead body had been placed, with all the intensity of one who had only recently been deprived of her freedom and homeland, we would never have been blessed with the likes of Hess or Pinsker, Herzl or Nordau, Sirkin or Borochov, Gordon or Brenner.
As our family’s Israel adventure continues, as our national experiment persists, and as we in the Jewish state enjoy the unprecedented fruits of hard work, devotion, creativity, and divine providence, may we never forget how difficult it was to get here, how many challenges still lie ahead, and yet just how capable we are of overcoming them.