In the last few weeks, I have been noticing connections- how the Hebrew date for Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim), 28 Iyar, falls so close to Shavuot. Yom Yerushalayim is the celebration of the reunification of Jerusalem, when Jews and all other faiths were able access to the Western Wall once more (which finally happened during the Six-day war), and Shavuot is the celebration of the day the Jews received the Torah and became a nation.
I have also been thinking about two sad events which coincide today, the one year anniversary of removing our own people from their homes (again- this has happened a few times, in a few places recently) and how last year’s travesty took place exactly four years to the day after the event that kick-started our current Jewish Unity Day: the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish boys teenagers. This atrocity sparked so much outrage and concern in the country that it led to new levels of unity in the nation, as all sides came together to pray for the missing boys, to sing songs, and to hope for a better outcome than we ultimately received. Our nation is made up of so many different kinds of Jews that there is a joke: two Jews, three opinions. But it is no laughing matter when we fight for the rights of others- not a bad thing in itself- over our own people. While we have some supporters in the world, we also have so many who hate, who claim they are not against Jews, just Israeli “occupiers”: Who are they kidding? As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it so well, Anti-Zionism is simply the new Antisemitism.
In preparing to teach about Jerusalem Day and the Six-day war, I watched a few videos with my husband. He pointed out that although so many people point to this as one of the many miracles that keeps this nation alive, that takes away from the sheer amount of work and preparation that went into that war behind the scenes, as our army and air force planned and trained for many scenarios, knowing that enemy forces were massing on our tiny borders. They knew attack was imminent, and therefore planned a pre-emptive strike by taking out the Egyptian Air force while it was still on the ground. Some would argue that this shows *we* were the aggressor- after all, we “started it”. But I am a teacher, and too often I have heard complaints that a kid did something, when really it was due to wanting to protect himself from the bully who was truthfully the aggressor. So I will leave that issue alone. Although, you tell me–if we hadn’t “started it,” would there even BE an Israel today?
That aside, let’s look at the question of whether there were miracles or not. I hope to soon read Michael Oren’s book on the Six day war, but I have heard a few snippets. Yes, we trained our air force, we did repetitive exercises designed to throw the surrounding armies’ radar off–we would lift off, fly over the Mediterranean, then fly below radar and return. On the morning that war looked imminent, we did the same, only after our pilots flew under the radar, they headed towards Egypt and destroyed their planes which were still on the ground. As I understand, Michael Oren tells only facts, and leaves it for us to decide whether it was miraculous. The very fact that we were able to immediately establish air superiority was, even before the war had really started, the deciding factor in our ultimate victory. But, what about the fact that, just as our planes got to Egypt, their air force controller–who could have alerted at least a few of the pilots and planes–went for a cup of coffee? So, you decide, was it a miracle?
During our whole long history as a people, so many have tried to kill the Jews–we lost and suffered much. Yet we are still here, and somehow, after the worst tragedy of all time, the hugest atrocity of them all, a culmination of the persecutions, pogroms, inquisitions and expulsions we suffered over the millennia, the Holocaust–we established our own State, on our soil, and we are a thriving, high-tech nation. When I think of the weeks (these weeks) we were praying for Eyal, Gil-ad, and Naftali, what comes to mind most powerfully is the night we gathered at Tzomet Hagush, on the circle just meters from where they were kidnapped, and sang. One of those songs was Vehi Sheamda, about how all along, other nations have come to try to remove the Jews, to kill our bodies or our spirits, yet we are still here.
This week’s parsha (portion of the week) is Behaalotcha. Yesterday I heard a beautiful shiur by Shoshana Judelman. The parsha talks about some of the kelim (tools) used in the Mishkan (the temporary dwelling place for Hashem while we were in the desert) and later in the Beit Mikdash (Holy Temple). One of these items is the seven-branched Menorah, a candelabra that lit up the Mishkan. Shoshana spoke about how out of darkness can come light- that when there is a lot of light, we don’t necessarily notice another, but when we are in a dark tunnel, even the smallest flame will give the brightest light. Shoshana also told how we can see that even though there are seven branches, meant to represent all the different types of Jews, they all stem from the same place- they start out together, and their different directions only serve to bring light to more corners of darkness.
At this time of year we read Bamidbar, the book of the Jewish people’s travels through the desert. I always used to think of this time period as so sad (even before the terrible recent murders of children [including a 13-year old] that now will forever be associated with June in my mind), how the Jews received the Torah and then, so soon after, built an idol to worship. We can reach so high, but if we are not careful, we can fall so far. But as Shoshana taught a few weeks ago, the Midbar, the desert, seems to be a wasteland, yet she said one reason we received the Torah there was to show that even when we feel at our lowest point, in times of despair or emptiness, even there we can find Hashem. That every desert can be transformed into a place of Torah. That if we pull together and connect to each other, even at the darkest times, we can turn the desert into a place of strength and connection, as we have seen in our nation.
The desert is also a place empty of distractions, where we can more clearly hear the voice of Hashem, the one telling us to do the right thing. Over Shavuot I heard many great shiurim, including one by either Eli Weber or Rabbi David Marcus (I’m sorry, I don’t remember which one it was) in which the question was asked who was Avraham? He was just this guy, no special history, who listened to God. We are told stories about him, but in the plain reading, he doesn’t get an introduction- just gets told to Go to the land that God will show him, and he does. This shows that anyone at all can Listen, can do the right thing.
Like our state symbol, the Menorah, we have been called a Light unto the Nations, which means we have a task—to show people the right thing. When we are persecuted, we come together, and we overcome, whether one believes this is by our own strength and planning or a Higher Plan. I have not been back to Netiv Avot since that day, exactly a year ago, where we went to support the families who left their homes peacefully. I don’t want to see the empty hilltop, where beautiful houses once stood, where people were told by the government that they could and should build, encouraged to put in their savings and then, when it came time to have their backs, were allowed to fall alone (although many of us were there with them), to lose their homes and hopes and dreams. I know that people are not houses, and that we can and have kept building. The families from Netiv Avot are waiting, even now while still living in caravans, to get an official decision about where they can rebuild. They tried to do the right thing, but lost out when their guiding lights misdirected them. Ironically, I am currently fighting against a building project in the area, because it was not done the right way, and (I believe) is not going to benefit the people who will have to live with it. This does not mean we are against building—we want more Jewish homes! but we want it done right. We need to do things in the right way, and not hurt each other. We need to know that what we are building will be good for all, and that it won’t get torn down due to the way in which it was built. We need to remember that in this time period just 71 years ago for the State, and 52 years for Jerusalem and Chevron and Gush Etzion, there was a Miracle granted through those that fought so hard for their land and their homes, but we are not granted endless miracles. We have to do the work, we have to earn the miracles.
We need to remember to be the light, to remember that we can come together, and to make sure that it is for a good thing. We need no more outside forces doing terrible things to us to remind us that we are one Nation, one base from which all the branches grow. Remember, there was a time that we were all just a number, not so long ago, and we said ‘Never forget.’ Remember that, and we can make our own miracles happen for our growing Nation.