God Loves Reform Jews

Robinson's Arch, Tisha b'Av, July 22, 2018 (Alden Solovy)
Robinson's Arch, Tisha b'Av, July 22, 2018 (Alden Solovy)

On Tisha B’Av, God revealed a deep love of Reform Jews. With a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, God held back a stone from falling from the southern Western Wall onto liberal Jews worshiping below. The stone was, indeed, destined to fall — as it did on Monday — but God held the stone back until no one would be hurt.

The stone fell on an egalitarian prayer platform along the southern expanse of the Western Wall near Robinson’s Arch. Had it fallen Saturday night, Tisha B’Av eve, the results could have been catastrophic. With hundreds of worshipers and visitors to that part of the Wall, the potential for serious injury and perhaps death is obvious. Clearly, God held back the stone to save some beloved Children of Israel.

This is my response to the absurd and small-minded comments of deputy Jerusalem mayor Dov Kalmanovich, who called the incident a warning message to liberal Jews.

“The falling of one of the Western Wall stones, so close to Tisha B’Av, and exactly at the location of the controversial prayer area, should be a red light for us all. I suggest that Reform leaders, Women of the Wall, and the other quarrel-mongers examine themselves, and not the Wall,” he said.

No, Deputy Mayor Kalmonovich. Examine yourself. Examine your heart.

Only a heart of hate sees the random fall of a loose stone as a warning message to other Jews. Only a heart of hate looks at God’s hand as a fist. Only a heart of hate sees stones of the Western Wall as God’s weapons.

Deputy mayor, if your heart weren’t black with sinat chinam – baseless hatred – you might see the fact that the stone didn’t fall on Tisha b’Av eve as a sign of God’s love for all Jewish people.

A heart of love could have seen the random fall of a loose stone – coming after the holy day, with not a single injury – as a sign that God protects us all. A heart of love could see God’s hand as a source of blessings. A heart of love could see a loose stone falling from the Western Wall as a call to end the very sinat chinam that you so casually promote.

Do you know the meaning of the words sinat chinam, deputy mayor? Sinat means “hatred.” Chinam means “free.”

The sin of sinat chinam is the belief that hatred has no cost. It’s the belief that you can espouse hate for fellow Jews freely, without ramifications for the people of Israel. It’s the belief that attempting to gain a few cheap political points by deriding liberal Jews has no cost, that it doesn’t add one more fracture to Klal Yisroel. It does.

The crashing of a boulder from the Wall is the dramatic end of a long and hidden process of failure, cracks that loosen the stone, shifts that erode integrity. The movement of water. The growth of plants. This isn’t God’s hand; neither a hand of hate nor a hand of love.

As you said deputy mayor: “We must not explain and interpret natural phenomena as signs from heaven, as the ways of the Creator are hidden,” adding: “The timing and the location of the fall raise many questions.”

Agreed. Let’s not interpret this as an act of God. At the same time, the fall does raise questions. The questions come from the insight to view this moment as a metaphor.

What makes the remnants of the Temple unstable? What erodes the Jewish people from beneath and behind, quietly but steadily loosening the stones of our heritage, our history and our lives?

Sinat chinam.

Comments like yours – joining a litany of hatred from others in Israel – add cracks to the fractures between Israel and the Diaspora, in particular American Jewry. They add cracks among us here in Israel, as well.

There is no free hatred, deputy mayor. It’s time to stop examining the Wall for signs of God. It is, indeed, time to examine your own heart. But you are not alone. As loathsome as your comments are, the moment is not about you, it’s about the Jewish people.

A stone of the Western Wall falls, loosened by years of sinat chinam. Crashing safely on the deck of the egalitarian plaza, the debris scatter toward the feet of a woman in prayer. And her prayer continues. So, too, the results of sinat chinam fall at the feet of us all. And our work, as a people, continues.

Sinat chinam is alive in dark corners throughout Judaism. For the sake of the Jewish people, hatred of one another must end. Vile thoughts leading to vile assertions must disappear. Seeing God’s hand as one of violence destroys our people.

Let’s use this moment as a sign that we must come together, as a people, in acceptance, with understanding, with compassion, with love.

About the Author
Alden Solovy is a liturgist, poet, and teacher. His teaching spans from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem to Limmud UK and synagogues throughout North America. He's the author of “This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day” and has written more than 700 pieces of new liturgy. His new book, "This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings," is anticipated in early 2019. He made aliyah in 2012. Read his work at www.ToBendLight.com.
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