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‘Al Eyleh Ani Bochiyah’ — For these I weep

After 32 years of living in Israel, this is the first time I wish I didn't live here. And yet I'm heartened by the protestors and by a bare breasted woman
A bare breasted woman atop the menorah outside the Israeli parliament  in Jerusalem on July 21, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
A bare breasted woman atop the menorah outside the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on July 21, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

According to the Jewish calendar, we are currently in the most distressing time of the year; the nine days of mourning leading up to Tisha b’Av, the day of the destruction of both historical Temples. Batei haMikdash, Houses of Holiness. But this year, during this period, I, and many others, are mourning the destruction of another holy house: our home, the State of Israel, and the crumbling of the very foundations upon which it stands. The Temples were destroyed first by the Babylonians, and then by the Romans. Past attempts to eliminate the State of Israel have all been from without. But now, we are being destroyed from within.

Externally, it seems like any other year. Now, at the height of summer, the sun has started to slowly move south, having reached its northernmost trajectory about a month ago. I begin to again see the sunlight and feel its heat through the south-facing window by which I work. On these first nights of the month of Av, I watch a perfect crescent moon descending towards the horizon in a black sky. Jerusalem days are hot, nights damp and cool, like every summer. But these natural phenomena are misleading, giving no hint of the turmoil going on within our home, this country.

I weep, I mourn, as I watch our democracy, supposedly the only democracy in the Middle East, being dismembered limb by limb. Cell-phone tracking, the Corona Emergency Powers Bill enabling police to search a home without a warrant (thankfully retracted quickly), the Knesset able to pass laws without any other ratifying body, a Facebook censorship law in its third reading, police brutality. The murder of an Arab man with special needs by police, with no repercussions and the evidence “missing.”

I weep each day as I read the news. I mourn those who have died from Covid-19, taking their last breath alone, without family or friends by their sides, and having their deaths dishonored by those who refuse to acknowledge the role that the coronavirus played in their deaths, claiming that they died of their co-morbidities and “would have died anyway” (won’t we all die anyway??). Isn’t all Israel responsible for one another? And I weep that coronavirus wards in hospitals are full, while, every day, I read a post by someone claiming that the virus doesn’t exist and is just a conspiracy.

I mourn a government that has entirely lost its way, that has enabled Covid-19 to run amok, that is unable to get a handle on it, or to make any decisions about how to move in that direction, completely undermining its own authority by constantly changing decisions about closures, enforcing guidelines ridiculously, or stating them in a completely unclear fashion.

I mourn the government’s lack of adequate economic assistance to the many in extremely dire financial situations, constantly promising but never making a final decision about how to help, and each day of dithering is another day that numerous families have no food on their table.

I mourn the fact that there is no foreseeable leadership in this country at a time when we desperately need strong, clear-headed, honest leaders who truly want the best for their citizens. I weep for policepeople who are charged with dispersing demonstrations and enforcing mask wearing. And for an entire nation whose collective nerves are so on edge that the slightest interaction can, and often does, lead to physical, verbal, or virtual violence.

And I mourn that, after over 32 years of living in this country – years that included two wars, a number of Gaza campaigns, and two intifadas – this is the first time that I wish I didn’t live here.

Meditation and Hope. Photo by Lila Kimhi

And yet… I am also heartened. I am heartened by and immensely proud of the thousands of people showing up night after night to protest this destruction. Young and old, from all backgrounds, who come because they love their home, who will lay down on the pavement and be toppled by water canons in order to prevent churban habayit (destruction of the House/Temple). I am proud of the hundreds of individuals who sit in the middle of the street to meditate as a form of nonviolent protest. I am moved to tears by the image of a bare-breasted woman kneeling on top of the menorah in front of the Knesset – the ultimate symbol of the State – offering a flower to heaven. A modern-day version of Delacroix’ Liberty, symbolizing – yes – a revolution. Thousands and thousands of people of all ages, night after night after night throughout the country, bearing placards of despair, anger, and hope. Dedicated and determined to save our home.

On Tisha b’Av we mourn the destruction of the place in which God manifested on Earth. We pray for it to be rebuilt through the power of causeless love. And if that place is not here, on our streets and in our hearts, then where is it? And if not now, when?

I will not be silent because my country has changed. I will not give into her, I will remind her, and sing here, in her ear, until she opens her eyes. Photo by Lila Kimhi
About the Author
Ruthi Soudack, originally from Vancouver, arrived in Jerusalem for a short visit three days after the beginning of the first intifada, and has been here ever since. She is a traveller, yoga teacher, writer, translator, editor, storyteller, musician, and occasionally, a stand-up comic. (Profile picture by Shira Aboulafia)
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