This year, we added one more tragic event to the 10th of Tevet: a horrific terrorist attack, committed at the pastoral Haas Promenade, overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. On this sunny Sunday, four young Israeli soldiers, who let their guard down while on an educational tour, were suddenly mowed down by a jihadist who used his truck as a mechanized wrecking ball. This year’s 10th of Tevet fast was the final day for 20-year-old Yael Yekutiel of Givatayim, 22-year-old Shir Hajaj of Ma’aleh Adumim, 20-year-old Shira Tzur of Haifa and 20-year old Erez Orbach of Alon Shvut. Many more are still recovering from wounds that will forever alter their lives.
However, underlying this attack is much more than the supposed “lone wolf” phenomenon. Painfully, and not coincidentally, it occurred on the 10th of Tevet fast precisely because Jewish history wants to tell us something — to help us understand where we need to shape up in this great effort to reestablish a third Jewish commonwealth in the land of Israel.
The Four Reasons for the Fast
The traditional fast of the 10th of Tevet marks three major calamities in Jewish history:
1. The death of Ezra and Nehemia, the great leaders of the return to Zion, in the 5th century BCE.
2. The loss of the unique Jewish narrative as epitomized by the forced translation of the Torah into Greek, initiated approximately two centuries later by King Ptolemy II of Alexandria, whose goal was not to connect to God through the Bible, but to reduce the value of Torah to the level of any other book in his great library.
3. The beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar in the 6th century BCE, which led to the destruction of the First Temple and the loss of Israeli sovereignty in the land of Israel.
4. In modern times, the 10th of Tevet took on yet a another dimension: the general day of mourning, when the prayer for the deceased is said over people who perished in the Holocaust, but whose exact day of passing is unknown. It is customary on this day to light candles, to study Torah and to recite El Maleh Rahamim in synagogue.
So we have three classic motifs and one new one: The loss of great leaders who shaped the return to Zion; the loss of Jewish narrative as the Greeks became just as much the owners of the Bible as the Jews; the loss of Jewish sovereignty starting in Jerusalem; and the effort to honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.
The truck-ramming on a beautiful sunny 10th of Tevet was a nudge from Jewish history, whispering to us that none of the four reasons for mourning on the 10th of Tevet is a thing of the past. Rather, each is relevant in today’s strategic, political and spiritual milieu.
Today’s Loss of Narrative
We can just as easily mourn for the loss of the Jewish narrative today as that of 23 centuries ago. Whenever I do my IDF reserve duty, I test my comrades on their knowledge of the Bible, only to discover their appalling illiteracy. Indeed, our people simply no longer know the Bible, and similarly, they don’t know the Jewish calendar. Furthermore, due to a widespread post-modernist view among my army buddies that all claims have equal validity, while they have a gut sense that the Jewish state needs to fight to survive, they can’t express why Israeli rights are any stronger than those of the Palestinians.
We Israelis recognize our country to be many things: the start-up nation, a state of social justice and a liberal Western democracy. But we are losing our narrative as an ancient Biblical people — indigenous to the land of Israel. We fail to disavow the assertion that we are foreigners, occupiers, colonialists. When the world tells us we have stolen Palestinian land, we emphatically proclaim that we invented the cellphone, respect gay rights and rush to help countries hit by natural disasters. We do not talk about our Bible, our glorious history in this land, our prophets and our fighters. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have appropriated our story. Now they are the small, indigenous, plucky rights-fighters who die to liberate the land from us.
Today’s Loss of Leadership
Two and half thousand years ago, Ezra and Nehemia brought a sense of identity to the Jewish people. They brought us out of Babylon; helped us throw off foreign influences (and wives); and plugged them into the Zionist story — and Zionist action — building a wall for Jerusalem and reconstituting a Temple. They fought back against interlopers who claimed rights to the land and who said that they also had a Jewish narrative and a connection to the land. Ezra and Nehemia were possessed by their “Zionist” goals and infected their followers with that zeal. When they died, the nation mourned and fasted, because we knew that without great leaders, it is hard to have the confidence to fight physical and cultural wars.
The same applies today. We are now past the age of the state of Israel’s founding fathers, whose resolve, vision and courage led us in the first years of the Zionist enterprise. Now we are in the age of leaders who manage the situation well, but are not sure of the justice of our cause. They, too, have been corrupted by post-modernist setting that allows for the legitimacy of anti-Israel narratives. They are filled with fear disguised as pragmatism, which, in practical terms, results in the ambivalence to assert our full rights in this land, and the inability to denounce Palestinian claims. The Oslo process, “land for peace,” the “two-state solution” and the Gaza withdrawal embody weakness — to which Israeli leaders led the way.
Today’s Loss of Israeli Sovereignty
As for the main impetus behind the 10th of Tevet — the mourning for the loss of actual sovereignty 2,500 years ago, starting in Jerusalem: This malady, too, is with us today. The truck-rammer who killed the soldiers on Sunday, was a resident of the adjacent Arab neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, which also looks over the Old City. This strategic area, which is within the borders of municipal Israeli Jerusalem, is a cesspool of jihadism. This east Jerusalem neighborhood produced 26-year-old Alaa Abu Dhein, perpetrator of the Mercaz Harav massacre of eight young students; 22-year-old Uday Abu Jamal and 32-year-old Ghassan Muhammad Abu Jamal, perpetrators of the Har Nof synagogue massacre of five rabbis; and 28-year-old Fadi al-Qanbar, the 10th of Tevet truck-ramming terrorist. They all hailed from quaint, big-housed, no checkpoints Jabel Mukaber.
The reality of such a neighborhood existing in the heart of Jerusalem, and Israel’s inability to extinguish the fire of jihad emanating from it, represents the loss of Israeli sovereignty in the capital of the Jewish state — comparable to Nebuchadnezzar’s siege on Jerusalem, which ended in destruction of the first Jewish commonwealth.
Finally, the 10th of Tevet reminds us of the Holocaust, as it is the day of general mourning. The Shoah, essentially, is when Jews were murdered en masse for being Jews. I have met members of the Sayeret Matkal commando unit who stormed the Entebbe airport in 1976 and rescued the Israeli hostages there, because they believed in the principle of “Never Again” — of never allowing a Holocaust to happen to our people in the future. Yet, somehow, we have forgotten this principle, and lost the fervor to stamp out Nazism. Today, a Nazi jihadist ideology is flourishing in the midst of the Jewish capital, along with the wanton murder of Jews such as Yael, Shir, Shira and Erez, for whose families a personal Holocaust just took place.
Will We Learn from History?
On this 10th of Tevet, as I watched the video of a jihadist-driven truck purposefully running over a group of Israeli soldiers, I waited for some news commentator to mention what was so prominent in my mind — the unhappy coincidence of the carnage with the age-old day of fast and mourning. But my wait was in vain.
The philosopher George Santayana famously wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Indeed, Jewish history has a lot to teach us, and can help guide us through tough times. But it seems that on this year’s commemoration of the 10th of Tevet tragic history, we were condemned to repeat it.