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Who Will Cry For Israel

August 04, 2006

Who will cry for Israel?

This past Wednesday, August 2nd, the holy day of Tisha b’Av was observed…the day on which we mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

We fast…we sit on the floor and reflect on the tragedies that have befallen our People…we cry.

We read from the Book of Lamentations. We remember the words of Psalm 137, reflecting on the experience of exile from the beloved country:

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down,

We wept when we remembered Zion.

Upon the willows in the midst [of Babylon],

We hanged up our harps.

And they that led us there [in captivity] asked of us words of


Gleefully saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’

[But we asked] ‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign


If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget [how to

perform rituals] let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,

If I remember thee not

If I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy.”

Who will cry for Israel?

I have been reading ‘Dispatches From Israel’ in NextBook by Yoram Kaniuk and I want to share some of his thoughts with you:

“This is our first war without a name.

These days, Tel Aviv is 62 miles from the front, which is Haifa, Tzfat, Nehariya and other places…Now, most of Tel Aviv is populated by people from the north. You can tell they are foreigners, even though the cities aren’t very far away. Whenever we hear the sound of a plane, they’re the ones who immediately look up.

Israel is a situation. I have a friend who edited a newspaper in Denmark and lived part of the time in Israel. Every time he came back, I’d ask him what the situation was in Denmark. He’d tell me that there was no Danish situation. When an Israeli meets another Israeli in the Nevada desert or in the South Pole, he asks what’s new in Israel, what’s the situation. The Israelis are the only people who have a national situation.

We’re surrounded by hundreds of millions of Arabs who are not ardent members of the Zionist movement. Our whole story is one long war. Arafat used to say that he’d beat us with the wombs of Arab women. Because of this situation, we’ve lost much of our humor, which has saved the Jewish people more often than the Torah.

[We] Jews kn[o]w how to laugh at [our] suffering, and that’s why, laughing and crying, [we have] outlived all the empires, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the ancient Greeks, the Assyrians and the Romans, all of whom stepped off the stage of history.”

I want to offer an a comment about Yoram’s phrase “laughing at our suffering.” On July 30th, the responses of Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua to a New York Times interview appeared, and this is how he answered the question, “As one of Israel’s most acclaimed novelists and public intellectuals, you happen to live in Haifa, which is close to the Lebanese border and among the towns in northern Israel struck by Hezbollah’s rockets. What has it been like there?” To which Yehoshua replied, “It’s a bizarre combination. It’s like Yom Kippur on the one hand, because the streets are empty and there are no cars. On the other hand, you can eat if you like.”

[Back to Yoram Kaniuk]: On the home front, this is the strangest war we’ve ever had. We’re starting to get used to it. To complain. And it is truly hard to sit in a shelter for days on end and get killed on our own balcony. The home front is the front in this war. Soon we’ll be sleeping in bed with anti-rocket rockets instead of a sweet woman, and she’ll be sleeping with her rockets, and the rockets will converse.”

I’ll close with Yehoshua’s final words in the July 30th {2006} interview. He was asked, “You [are] a pessimist about the future of Israel?” and he

replied, “No. I have children and grandchildren. I can be a pessimist for

myself, but I have to be optimistic for them. I have to keep the spirit.”

That is what the long historic, literary, liturgic sweep of our People demands: that we too keep the spirit.

Rabbi Elliot J. Holin