On the saddest day of the Jewish year, I have found a reason to rejoice.
With all due respect, I do not mean to minimize the memories of the destruction of the First and Second Temples, the defeat of the Bar Kochva revolutionary forces against the Romans, or the expulsion of Jews from England and Spain, events all commemorated on Tisha Be’Av. On the contrary.
As I write this, with my head a bit heavy and my throat parched from fasting, I am thinking about another somber event in the Jewish narrative that we recall on Tisha Be’Av.
That one, found in the Book of Numbers, then retold (and revised) in Deuteronomy, describes what happened when spies returned from the Promised Land with a sobering report of what they had discovered. The Israelites who received the report grew afraid and lost faith. G-d responded by making them wander through the desert for 40 years.
Today, the spies are much greater in number than the 12 sent out by Moses, and I am not talking about the Mossad, Shabach, the police, or the armed forces. The spies are the thousands of people like me with smartphones who have recorded what has been going on for everyone to see. Along with the traditional news sources, they have captured images of multitudes waving the blue-and-white Star of David and shouting slogans in praise of democracy. In condemning dictatorships, they have helped provide a light to the nations of the world.
And the people receiving their reports have not blanched. Many have picked up flags and joined the ranks of the protestors. While the coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to turn an independent Supreme Court into a subservient tool of his government, the people have shown that Israel is greater than Bibi and his band. Suddenly, the Land of Milk and Honey has morphed into the Land of Activists.
Israelis are the first to admit that they can be rude. As a new citizen of the country, I can confirm that first hand. That said, I have attended well over a dozen demonstrations during the past seven months and have been surprised by the decorum and respect the protestors have shown for each other and their surroundings.
That first demonstration on a rain-soaked February night that filled Tel Aviv’s Habima Square was an inspiring harbinger. The protestors on Kaplan Street have not trampled the flower beds of the White City. They have picked up their own garbage.
Before the much-reviled overhaul began, Israel was far from a perfect nation. It had much work to do to become a land of the free that is just and fair to all, whether one is conservative or liberal, ultra-Orthodox or secular, Jewish, Muslim, Chrisitan, Palestinian, a stateless African refugee, white, black, brown, yellow, or red, straight, bi, gay, fluid, young, old, or yuppie.
Netanyahu’s overhaul has distracted the nation, but the people who have been demonstrating in the streets have encouraged me to believe that Israel has the potential to become a more perfect union. They are better than their leaders.
Recently, a friend of mine wrote in an email message: “I am afraid this Tish’a Be’av will be remembered down through the generations as the anniversary of the destruction of the Third Temple, too.”
When violence erupts at demonstrations, in poor Arab neighborhoods, or in the disputed lands, when I read the bigoted bile spewing from the lips of various cabinet ministers, my friend’s words sound prophetic.
This Tisha Be’Av, when I think about the most recent demonstration I attended, the one that included a freedom march to Jerusalem and brought hundreds of thousands into the streets around the country, I see a reason to rejoice.