Have Faith in the Jewish Spirit

The other day I was picking what will probably be the last of my garden’s cherry tomatoes.  It was a rather inconsequential harvest.  Ten tomatoes.  My mind wandered away from what I had hoped to be the restorative power of gardening to a more bountiful harvest in another place and time.  I recalled traipsing through the tomato fields of a kibbutz near the Gaza border.  Their cherry tomatoes were the best I had ever tasted.

Today, I can no longer savor their sweetness.  Kibbutzniks are murdered.  On Kibbutz Beeri alone one out of every 10 members are dead.  Field workers from Thailand and students from Nepal killed as well.  In all 1,300 were murdered.  3000 injured.  150 taken hostage.  We grieve for the dead.  We pray for those injured—and the countless more traumatized.  We hope for the hostages’ safe return.

The sheer inhumanity of Hamas is difficult to comprehend.  The terrorists’ barbarity is indescribable.  They tortured and raped.  They mutilated the bodies of the dead.  They spit on the bodies of others.  They decapitated babies and dismembered children.  And carted others off in cages amid cheers and celebrations.  The murderers surrounded festival goers and gunned them down.

Such descriptions feel as if they are from another tragic era.  Such numbers seem as if they belong to another time.  The scenes from the music festival made me feel like I was watching colorized films of Nazi Einsatzgruppen machine gunning Jews to death.

Israel was intended to liberate us from the tragedies of Jewish history.

Hamas has terrorized Jews everywhere.  They have used news and social media to terrify us and TikTok to terrorize our children.  Israel, the guardian of Jewish pride, the protector of Jewish lives, the rescuer of Jewish hostages has been invaded, diminished and victimized.  These attacks have deeply wounded our psyche.

The damage to the Jewish soul is inescapable.

The place that is supposed to serve as the guarantor against the slaughter of Jews is the place of our current slaughter.  We begin to question.  We begin to wonder.   If we are not safe there then we are not safe anywhere.

It is true, even though we hesitate to say so, murderous antisemitism is not of history books alone.  No generation is spared.  We are well acquainted with evil.  We are even familiar when others excuse it, apologize for it and applaud it.

We are reticent to say, antisemitism cannot be defeated.    Then again, we forget, neither can we.

The battle against terror is fought in the heart.  Our hearts are our own.  They need not be ruled by fear.  To banish terror is a conscious act.  It requires an act of strength and will.

Our feelings of loss and horror are palpable.  Our sense of bewilderment and abandonment are all too familiar.  They will not last.  They cannot last.  Our hearts are strong.

I have confidence in Israel’s wherewithal and its citizens’ resilience.  I have faith in my people’s fortitude and purpose.  Even though Hamas is barbaric, we follow the laws of just war.  Even though our enemies do not believe all human beings are created in God’s image, we stubbornly cling to this ideal.  I hold on to my Torah’s words. “And God created humankind in the divine image.” (Genesis 1)

And I hold on to my travels throughout the land, my visits to its cities, my meanderings along its streets.  I even savor a taste from years ago.

It was before the start of Shabbat, and I had a few hours to wander the streets of Jerusalem.  I found my way to Café Hillel in the German Colony.  A year before the café was destroyed by terrorists during the worst days of the Second Intifada.  I remember in particular the deaths of a father and daughter who went there for a cup of coffee the night before her wedding.  On that day in September 2003, they and five others were murdered and fifty injured.

Now, on the outside of the café, I see a stone plaque bearing the names of the murdered. Inside the restaurant I discover a place bustling with people talking and arguing.  I look around at the throng enjoying their coffees.

I sit down to sip my espresso.  I open the book of Yehuda Amichai poems I so often carry with me.  I turned past “God has pity on kindergarten children” and to another and read, “Afterwards, silence: no questions, no answers./ Jewish history and world history/ grind me between them like two grindstones, sometimes/ to a powder.”

I look up from the poet’s words and ponder the painful grindstones of our recent history.  I remember Nava and David Applebaum.  And then I take in the site of the multitude shouting in a language once thought dead.

I marveled at the smiles and laughter.  There were no more tears.

Have faith in the Jewish spirit!

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Moskowitz is the rabbi of Congregation L'Dor V'Dor, a community serving Long Island's North Shore. He began his rabbinical career in 1991 at the 92nd Street Y in New York. He travels every summer to Jerusalem to learn at the Shalom Hartman Institute where he is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow. Rabbi Moskowitz is married to Rabbi Susie Moskowitz and is the father of Shira and Ari.
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