Every so often events force one to adopt a new perspective and laugh at the complexity and contradiction that is Israel. Yesterday, I drove for the first time up the new road to Jerusalem, through the new Harel tunnel system that has seemingly tamed a winding and treacherous road. For the first time, Waze — another miracle of modern Israel — advised me that it was faster to drive from the north via Route 1 than Route 443. As I sailed through Chinese-bored tunnels in an area that has characteristically been the world’s steepest and most twisted parking lot, I passed the preserved convoy trucks in which boys and girls lost their lives only 70 years ago while fighting for the continued Jewish presence in Jerusalem.
Just as the modern apparition of the light rail bridge hove into view, my reverie was suddenly interrupted by a traffic standstill. The beautiful blue line on my Waze indicative of open road began to flash red. Ominous traffic standstill icons popped up all over the screen. Even worse, a column of black smoke rose skyward in front of me. My imagination immediately conjured up the worst. A mere traffic accident was the best alternative in my mind. Terrorism seemed more likely. Maybe even the harbinger of something worse. Sirens began sounding in the distance. Frantically, I scanned the usual websites looking for news that might explain what was going on. I called the people I was planning to meet to tell them that I might be quite late and to ask them to let me know if they heard any news of the unfolding incident.
Strangely, groups of yeshiva students came walking down the hill handing out candy and chewing gum to the drivers and passengers who were now parked waiting for traffic to move again. These boys didn’t seem the least bit perturbed by the apparent carnage at the top of the hill. The juxtaposition of their happy mood and the unfolding nightmare ahead seemed incomprehensible.
Finally, the traffic began to move and the standstill dissolved almost as quickly as it began. I reached the top of the hill to see firemen dousing the last of the flames. At first it seemed as if there was a charred body on the ground, but incomprehensibly no ambulance, no Zaka, none of the accompaniments one would expect from such a horrible loss of life. Then I saw a fireman prod the body with his tool and watched it break apart in a manner that revealed its inanimate form. Just then, I caught sight of a banner held proudly by the Yeshiva boys – Arrur Haman – “cursed be Haman!” Another sign reminded me that it was now the month of Adar. A mere 2,500 years after his plot to eradicate the Jewish people, Haman was burned in effigy. Unfortunately, they chose to burn him a little too close to the road!
On another day in another place I would have been outraged over the lost time from my day, the disruption to my schedule, the fear that I had experienced for no reason, and the thoughtless behavior of the boys. Yesterday, all I could do was laugh.
Napoleon Bonaparte famously walked past a Paris synagogue on a summer day and heard wailing from inside. He dispatched his lieutenant to learn the cause of the people’s distress. The officer returned and said the people were mourning the destruction of their temple. Bonaparte was upset by this news and ordered the lieutenant to learn where and when the crime had been perpetrated. His officer returned to tell Bonaparte that the temple had been destroyed by the Romans 1600 years earlier. Bonaparte famously remarked that a people who can mourn for a lost temple after so many years will never vanish from the face of the earth. So too, a people who can remember the need to curse the Aggagite after 2,500 years can face the future with confidence and determination.