Eyal Bitton
Cantor, composer, lyricist.

Unloved (Vayetze, Les Miz, and Israel)

On a daily basis, it seems, I come across news articles and posts in social media that I, as a Jew and as a Zionist, find very upsetting. I just read about two people stabbed to death in Tel Aviv by a Palestinian terrorist today. A number of others were wounded in the attack. Three others, including an 18-year-old American tourist and a Palestinian, were gunned down by a Palestinian terrorist with a sub-machine gun in the Etzion Bloc. This is on the heels of the heartless terrorist attack in Paris just a few days ago by ISIS madmen.

There’s a sense of crisis in the air. There’s a sense that the Western world and Jews are under attack.

Yesterday in Marseilles, a Jewish teacher was stabbed in an anti-Semitic attack by three people, one of whom was wearing a shirt with the ISIS logo. I guess that’s a twisted example of successful branding. Earlier this week, Margot Wallstrom, Sweden’s Foreign Minister, attributed much of the blame for ISIS’ grotesque acts of terrorism in Paris to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. More than that, she blames the Israel-Palestinian conflict for radicalizing Muslims.

Sadly, we’ve seen attacks on Jews in France for years now, perpetrated by radicalized Muslims. We’ve seen attacks in Israel for years. This year, the method is primarily by stabbing. This is out and out hatred. And it gets backed by applause and encouragement by Palestinian leadership. Today, following the murder of two Jews in Tel Aviv, Hamas praised “the heroic operation.” But that’s not all. They also called for more blood: “We call on the Palestinians to continue such activities.”

Then I read people excusing or justifying these acts of terrorism when it comes to Jews and/or Israelis. There isn’t much willingness to compare the acts of terrorism in Paris to the acts of terrorism in Israel. There isn’t much willingness to compare the victims of terrorism in Paris to the victims of terrorism in Israel – or even to yesterday’s Jewish victim of terrorism in southern France.

As a Jew and as a Zionist, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling upset by these attacks and by the way they’re viewed in many parts of the world. I’m no longer surprised but I am upset.

“He is Blind”

I am reminded of the song On My Own from Les Misèrables. Éponine is deeply in love with Marius. Despite her friendship, her loyalty, and her closeness to him, he does not return her feelings of love. Not only does he not love her back, he doesn’t see that she loves him. Éponine sings a soliloquy about feeling alone. She enters her imagination and pictures herself with Marius, a happy couple. She is filled with a sense of joy. Then she stops fantasizing and says:

And I know it’s only in my mind
That I’m talking to myself and not to him
And although I know that he is blind
Still I say, there’s a way for us

This has to be one of the greatest songs about unrequited love. Another great example of unrequited love is found in this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Vayetze. It’s the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah.

Jacob, Rachel, and Leah

Jacob is married to sisters, Rachel and Leah. He loves Rachel. Leah believes that he does not love her. When Leah gives birth first, she names her son Reuben because God has seen her affliction and

Now my husband will love me.

— Genesis 29:32

She gives birth to another son, Simeon, and credits the birth to God:

This is because the Lord heard that I was unloved and has given me this one also.

— Genesis 29:33

In other words, while she had hoped Jacob would love her after her first son was born, this would not be the case. Following the birth of her third son, the Torah does not tell us that Jacob loved Leah. So it may well be that this sense of feeling unloved continued unabated.

In the meantime, Rachel, whom Jacob fell in love with years ago, now feels unloved. She has seen her sister give birth numerous times but she remains barren. She finally gives her maid, Bilhah, to be her concubine. Although Bilhah gives birth to two sons in Rachel’s name, Dan and Naphtali, Rachel herself still remains barren. Only after Leah has given birth to her last child, a daughter she names Dinah, does Rachel give birth herself. And despite claiming that she felt vindicated by the births of Dan and Naphtali, the truth is that she only felt vindicated once she herself gave birth.

God has taken away my disgrace.

— Genesis 30:23

So both sisters go through years of feeling unloved.

Holding Out Hope

When it comes to Israel, Jews, and how the world sees us, I think that many of us feel like Éponine, Rachel, and Leah. We feel unloved and long for the day things will change.

Éponine dreams about Marius returning her love for him. Rachel yearns for God to show her love by granting her a child. Leah wishes her husband could love her.

I, like many of you, hold out hope that when Jews are knifed in Marseille, gunned down in a kosher grocery store in Paris, or stabbed, bombed, or God knows what in Israel, the world will not say, “Oh, it’s because you did such and such…” I hold out hope that one of these days, they’ll come to dismiss any excuse when Jewish blood is spilled. I hold out hope that they won’t blame Jews or Israel for the world’s evils. I hold out hope that the world will condemn terrorism when it strikes in Paris, London, New York, and Tel Aviv. I hold out hope that they will see that Israel belongs in the family of nations. I hold out hope that, one day, our love for the world will no longer be unrequited.

About the Author
Eyal Bitton is the cantor of Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland, Oregon where he incorporates Sephardi/Moroccan music, Ashkenazi music, popular adaptations, and original compositions into the service. As a composer and writer, his theatrical works have been produced in the US, Canada, Kenya, and China.
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