Paul Mirbach

Yea, we wept when we remembered Zion

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.”

Every time I read this lamentation, I imagine how bereft our ancestors must have felt. The power of its understated brevity expresses so perfectly the deep sense of loss and rootlessness they experienced, it’s almost as if I feel it too.

And while today we sit on the banks of the Yarkon, and not the Euphrates, and we observe the dire state of our dear country, we too lament. One cannot but wonder if the internecine conflict we are embroiled in over the Judicial Overhaul, will be added to the long litany of lamentations that we mourn on Tisha Be’Av.

By the Rivers of Babylon, painting by Gebhard Fugel, c. 1920. (Wikimedia Commons)

I confess that in moments of despondency as I hold my head and vainly try to fathom how our government in its compulsive obsession to pass these laws, can not only remain unmoved by the power and desperate passion of hundreds of thousands of Israelis – our finest and bravest woken into action by a deep love for the country and its well-being, but deliberately precipitate and foster this chasm between us, I believe it will.

Never in my worst nightmares could I have predicted that I would witness Israel’s implosion from within in my lifetime. But here we are. And as obdurate and brutally uncompromising as the Zealots were during the time of the Second Temple which led to our demise, the destruction of our Temple and our Exile, so too is this government leading us down an ominous, eerily similar path.

Dark shadows hang over us. And still, they determinedly push on and ram their laws through regardless, seemingly unaware of the destruction they are wreaking. But they are aware; they just don’t care. Because they have put their agenda above what is good for the country.

We hold our protests outside the Azrieli Towers. We gather week after week now, for 29 weeks. We make our voices heard – the voice of hundreds of thousands, chanting together, begging for reason, imploring the government to hear our cry; to stop for a moment and see what they are inflicting upon us all with their legislative agenda.

But the Azrieli Tower, may as well be the Tower of Babel.

Because they don’t hear us. Or, more accurately, they refuse to hear us. They have blocked us out. We know they really hear us, because they call us “anarchists”, “mutineers”, “traitors”. And “bullies”. We, who have no political influence and no power, with only the mass of our bodies, the force of our united voice, and our deep love for Israel as a democracy that drives our determination, despite our emotional and physical exhaustion after 29 weeks – we, who the only thing we can do is use pressure to make them reconsider – we are the bullies? But they, with unchallenged control of the Knesset and its committees, who exploit their majority to ram through whatever they want and have determined how they will vote in advance – with enforced discipline, with no consideration for the gravity of the debate (or the predicted consequences of their action), or respect for the point of view of others, or even the decency to allow them time to have their say, apparently, they aren’t bullies. They have the force of the police and soon the power of administrative arrest, that Ben Gvir will surely use against leaders of the protest, at their disposal, but we are the bullies.

How can we make them see what they are doing? That their single-minded obsession is driving us to an abyss? While they fast, and rent their clothes, and beat their chests and recite Eicha, decrying Sina Hinam, seemingly oblivious to the approaching aforementioned abyss, they press on. It will take just one small push, and we will become another chapter in the annals of Tisha Be’Av.

I derive so much hope and inspiration from the protests and our stand, that has united so many sectors of our society in an unlikely alliance, as we stand together and cry out our warning. I am in awe and admiration of our movement’s march to Jerusalem, that has fittingly taken on the significance of a pilgrimage of biblical proportions.

I will cling to my hope and I too will persevere. Because this is my home. I have nowhere to go. I have nowhere else I want to live.

So, every day until Thursday night I will recite, “By the rivers of Babylon”, as a warning, like the prophesy of Yirmiyahu. And I will weep for the damage already done by pitting brother against brother. And I will be true to Zion, in the hope that we will thrive in it, and not lose it and have to remember it.

About the Author
Paul Mirbach (PEM), made Aliya from South Africa to kibbutz Tuval in 1982 with a garin of Habonim members. Together they built a new kibbutz, transforming rocks and mud into a green oasis in the Gallilee. Paul still lives on Tuval. He calls it his little corner of Paradise.
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