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The cycles

We are a month (and change) away from Pesach. A month (and change) to start counting the Omer. By then we will be well beyond six round months since October 7th, 2023. So this Pesach we will be asking ourselves not four but five questions (the four prescribed by the text, the fifth left to each one’s consideration) while on the second night the count of the Omer will overlap with the count of the days at war, the days of the hostages being held in captivity.

What a year this 5784, what challenges, what contradictions. During these days in which we relentlessly approach twenty seven weeks, when I feel how time moves forward but facts do not, the despair that has kept me awake during more than a year has succumbed to reality. I see my dreams and ideals drain away.

The great tale that has supported my Judaism for 65 years is no longer. As African-Americans used to sing during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, I wonder “what have they done to my song.” I take shelter in nostalgia and longing but social media and the press have no mercy. We are suspended in a frail point of balance. If I am pressed to guess, I would say the scale will not sway my way.

I hear about resilience, historic trauma, unexpected outcomes, but find it hard to believe any of this can happen again this time. As Yossi Klein-Halevi said in a lecture at the Shalom Hartman Institute in 2023, “the Shoah is not the cause of the existence of the State of Israel; in fact, it could have been the reason for its failure.” Israel was the outcome of dreamers who wanted something so strongly as to make it happen, paraphrasing Herzl.

Which are the right dreams to dream today? Those of the pioneers succumbed to a capitalist, creative, innovative, ingenious society. The start-up-nation left behind the drained swamps, the lack of resources gave in to excess, hubris regarding military power demolished walls and towers; indeed, this is what happened in the Gaza border on Oct 7th. The few pioneers that peopled the area were decimated. They no longer dream, they endure nightmares.

Are messianic dreams wrong dreams? Jewish messianism has supported the Jewish people over two millenia of exile and persecution. The problem with the messianic dream is when it finds power. This is what is happening today in Israel. The power is not so much in the hands of Netanyahu but in the hands of Ben-Gvir, Smotrich, and the ultraorthodox parties, a smaller part of the population that despises the dreams of the majority.

In 2017, philosopher Micah Goodman published “Catch 67,” 50 years after the Six Day War, 70 years after the partition of Palestine, 120 years after the First Zionist Congress. Maybe we should start thinking also in terms of the original title “Catch 22” (Joseph Heller, 1961), the trap that caught us when the experimental government of Bennet-Lapid-Gantz & Company fell and gave in to the unequivocally anti-democratic government of Netanyahu and his troops in 2022. We wanted “just not Bibi” but we got the worst Bibi instead.

I am aware that civilian life in Israel has returned to almost normal. So have the protests: same protesters, other motives. The inner economy booms. But in the margins there are desolate zones, ones desolated by the enemy, others for precaution. BBC, to mention only one, shows us every day the situation in Gaza and puts the blame on Israel, but the displaced Israelis are the best kept secret in this war. The remains of the kibutzim and Sderot are still there for all to see, untouched, but nobody makes a report about them. THE news is that Noa Schem was invited by Sir Elton John to a concert; the concept of Hannah Arendt’s banalization of evil has never been so accurate.

Cycles in the Hebrew calendar occur every six months: one is Pesach-Shavuot, the other is Rosh Hashana-Simchat Torah. This year, 5784, the cycle has been, apparently at least, broken. As the Nazis, Hamas knew very well their target: how, when, and what to attack. If in 1938, Kristallnacht, they attacked Jewish civilization (see Klein-Halevi), in 2023 they attacked the Zionist civilization. Which amounts to the same: there might be non-Zionist Jews, but there is not Judaism without Zionism. It is in its DNA since Genesis 12:1, “Lech-lecha.

This past Shabat at NCI Montevideo Rabbi Mauricio Balter, Director of Masorti Olami, talked about the situation in Israel today and specifically refered to Micah Goodman who has suggested that recent events fit into a pattern of repetition: for the Jewish people, turning points happen twice. Creation and The Flood; the Tablets of the Covenant; and now Israel in 1948 and 2024. I wonder if, stretching the idea, we could think of these last 120 years as the second try after loosing sovereignty two millennia ago. After all, Biblical times are relative. If my hypothesis is possible, Israel should not fall. Zionism, a product of modernity, is our answer to centuries of fraility and precariousness.

My fear is that fanaticism and blindness bury us with our enemy as it happened to Samson with the Philistines (no pun meant, but it is there). Something we can save out of two millenia of exile and despair is the drive for life; that is why we are still sanding on the face of the Earth. Status-quo, the preferred state of Netanyahu, disrespects our history of perseverance. We are again surrendering our destiny to the hands of sicari and zealots; we know how that story ended.

Rabbinic wisdom does not apply only to matters of halacha; it should teach us to handle difficult tensions for the common good. If we are instructed to follow the majority (Baba Metzia 59b), this is the time to do so by expressing the will of the majority by the means that Israeli democracy has chosen as a sovereign state. Not when the war ends (war has always gone on, even if before we could not fight back), but now. Tomorrow. Because six months is a long time and we must renew the cycles. As it is written.

About the Author
1957, married, a son and a daughter, a grandson. Very closely related to Israel, residing in Uruguay. Retired. Lay leader at NCI, the Masorti congregation in Montevideo. Served twice as President of the Board. Vice President of the Board of the Jewish school. Twenty-five years involvement in community affairs. Attended the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem nine times over the years since 2009 for their CLP programs. Writer & lecturer.