Eli Tzion ve-areha, kemo isha ve-tzireha… “Let Zion and her cities lament, like a woman who is in labor pain.”
Published in The Jerusalem Post, August 9, 2019; and Israel Hayom, August 11, 2019.
For Tisha Be’Av: Isn’t it time to re-energize our national spirit with a measure of historical perspective, and our societal morals with some fine-tuned lessons from Jewish tradition?
[Note: In the devastating shadow of the murder of Dvir Sorek Hy”D, son of my friend and colleague Yoav Sorek, I am left numbed and depressed. To honor him, let us recommit to renewed Zionist and Jewish purpose.]
Tisha Be’Av, the mournful commemoration of Jewish national defeat and self-destruction which falls this weekend, hasn’t quite reached the status of Yom Kippur as a day of reflection and repentance in modern Israel. But it should.
We are repeating some of the mistakes made by our ancestors in the First and Second Jewish Commonwealth periods; missteps which have, in past, brought about social decay, moral decline and political disintegration.
This includes surges in crime and especially murder, a breakdown in family values, economic injustice, and a growing propensity to violence in social and political discourse.
Of this one can only grieve. In the words of the final kina (lamentation) recited in Jewish communities around the world on Tisha Be’Av morning: Eli Tzion ve-areha, kemo isha ve-tzireha… “Let Zion and her cities lament, like a woman who is in labor pain.” Mourn and weep, because it is natural, necessary and never enough.
Violence in social and political discourse is at the fore in this election year. Moderation, nuance and restraint have become orphan concepts in the political landscape. Instead we excel in kasach – untamed confrontation; and retzach ofi – political character assassination.
It’s no wonder that there are no exact Hebrew translations for “civility” or “subtlety.” Apparently, we don’t know what to make of these words or how to apply them.
Alas, Israelis are divided by many real ideological divisions. But it should be possible to draw a line between policy disagreement and political violence; between a legitimate argument and illegitimate character assassination; between legislation that is meant to better the greater good and legislation meant to punish, demean and crush the rival camp.
Of course, doing so requires a capacity for self-criticism and a hefty dose of humility. But in Israel these days, humility is in short supply. The rich and the successful, and the politically and religiously powerful, exude an overbearing self-confidence that leaves little room for change or compromise. Israelis are, as a rule, unrepentantly certain that their individual viewpoint is correct, barring all others.
The second societal ill that worries me greatly is the attenuation of a proud Zionist-Jewish perspective in our schoolbooks, media, culture and arts scene. This includes a questioning of the essential morality of the Jewish return to Zion, and an assault on traditional family values.
These “progressive” narratives dangerously threaten to strip us of the ideological strength necessary to persevere in the struggle for Israel’s place in the Middle East, and the self-valuation necessary to secure Judaism’s place in the modern world.
It is time to stop and ask ourselves: Has our heightened capacity for self-criticism and our enthusiasm for liberalism gone too far? Isn’t it time to reenergize our national spirit with a measure of historical perspective, and our societal morals with some fine-tuned lessons from Jewish tradition?
What better moment than Tisha Be’Av to remind ourselves of our unassailable and unmatchable claim to Jerusalem; to reaffirm the deep roots of Jewish identity and Israeli nationality that run through ancient Jerusalem — far beyond the practical calculus of municipal demographics, security concerns and political timetables?
What better moment than Tisha Be’Av to remind ourselves of the Bible’s passionate focus on children and family, smart devotion to ritual, and emphasis on constant Torah study; and its de-emphasis of material riches and hedonic pleasures?
Part of our national rehabilitation also involves rejection of despair and negativity, and instead counting our personal and national blessings. After all, Israeli per capita income is impressive, families are (still) relatively large and supportive, and democratic freedoms remain strong. Indeed, in every survey, Israelis say that they are very happy.
In my view, the happy Israeli mind also derives from a sense of historic purpose that still courses through the soul of our national community. And this purposefulness explains the sacrifice and commitment of Israelis. These are crucial ingredients that make life in Israel satisfying and exciting, especially for a people that has waited so long for its return to Zion.
It’s worth pointing out the manifold good works done by Israelis of all stripes and classes; acts of loving kindness and boundless generosity. This ranges from everyday cancer care for kids to high philanthropy for the arts; and from immigrant absorption to roadside assistance. There is great heart in Israel. We just need to maximize the heart and minimize the hatred.
So on the eve of Tisha Be’Av (and at campaign crunch time), let us recommit ourselves to a vision of the common good; to a sense of shared destiny.
Consider making this personal commitment for the coming year: “I undertake to restrain my tongue, because over-heated rhetoric can lead to tragedy. I commit myself to the patience necessary to withhold harsh judgment of friends and adversaries, and of the country. I recommit myself to Zionist and Jewish values – out of an overriding concern for Jewish Peoplehood.”