Several days ago I was on my way to Tel-Aviv to attend a family celebration. About 10 miles from the Beit-Shemesh Interchange, leading to the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem Highway, I was stunned by what seemed to be a gigantic cloud, hanging in the heavens. The trouble was that it was not a rain cloud, or any other natural cloud, for that matter. It was a cloud caused by a huge fire. It literally hung in the sky, not moving. It reminded me of pictures I’d seen after massive bombing attacks. It was a little scary.
Not too long afterwards it became apparent that the fire was one of the worst, if not the most destructive forest fire in Israel’s history. Over two million trees went up in smoke. That’s a lot of forest. One of the settlements in the area, Shoresh, lost more than 30 houses to the flames. Many villages in the area were evacuated. (Symbolically, it is perhaps significant that this fire took place on the day after the self-appointed deadline for the signing of the final interim agreement between Arafat and Rabin.)
As we approach the 17th of Tammuz, the date signifying commencement of the three-week period of mourning, commemorating the destruction of the first and second Temple, the latter almost 2,000 years ago, this fire seems to have rather symbolic overtones. Two thousand years ago we lost our independence, we lost our homeland, we lost the most important city and site in the world, to the then superpower, Rome. For two thousand years we have sat on the ground on the 9th of Av, we have fasted, we have recited the book of Lamentations and have cried bitter tears, because of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. We have suffered, and we have even died to recite "Next year in Jerusalem." And now, after 2,000 years of yearnings and tears, after 2,000 years of waiting, 2,000 years of "next year in Jerusalem," what do we say now? This year, when we say "Next year in Jerusalem," we are not saying it from Galut, we are saying it as a prayer from Jerusalem, from Hebron, from Eilat, from the Golan Heights, praying that next year we will STILL be in Jerusalem. For, unfortunately, there are those among us who don’t want us there. Truthfully, I don’t know where they want us. Nor do I understand what they want from themselves.
So, you say to yourselves, what is going to be? The situation seems to be rather depressing, to say the least. How then, is it possible to continue? My feeling is as follows:As the 17th of Tammuz reminds us, the Jewish People spent 2,000 years in exile, far from their homeland, far from the source of their spiritual roots. Two thousand years is a long time, long enough to leave a distinct impression on a People. The fact that we were able to survive 2,000 years of exile is, in and of itself, something of a miracle. However, our national identity was definitely affected. It wasn’t totally erased, but it was altered, distorted. The influences of foreign thoughts, alien to Judaism, but considered to be the lifeblood of humanism, the influences of Christianity, arch-rival to all Judaism representing the major force attempting to exterminate Am Yisrael, but clothed in the fashion of modern, Western liberalism, and deadly persecutions and repeated exiles over hundreds of years, have left their mark. The People of Israel, returning to Eretz Yisrael, are presently finding all of these influences colliding with, and in many cases, directly contradicting, all that has been "learned" and absorbed for so long. Returning to Israel, people find themselves inundated with thoughts and values that have been foreign to them for two thousand years. This collision between pure Judaism, both spiritual, i.e., philosophical-religious, and physical, i.e., political-national, versus the worldly, Western framework infused into us, creates a tremendous explosion, taking the form of exactly what is happening today: a battle, or perhaps even a war between these two sets of contradicting, opposing values. Perhaps in simpler terms, our present condition might be defined as a gigantic identity crisis - who are we? Are we the Am Yisrael with a clearly defined objective, inclusive with full instructions how to reach the objective, or are we something else, less defined, but theoretically, more fitting to the 20th and 21st centuries? That is what our present struggle is all about. It takes the form of "left" and "right," territories vs. peace, religious opposite secular. But these are all symptoms of a greater controversy - What is Am Yisrael, why should we be in the Land of Israel, and how will the Jewish People manifest themselves in the future? In other words, a massive identity crisis. Will the real Jewish People please stand up?
How will we come out of it? You may not believe it, but I am optimistic. Such a problem, can only be considered "natural" after two thousand years of complexities. If we managed tosurvive all that happened to us, climaxing with the inhuman masscre of six million, and following that, in spite of that, we had the ability to rebuild a State, we can get through anything. It’s not necessarily easy, nor is it necessarily pleasant, but in the end we will come out stronger for it. For I have no doubt as to the result of our identity crisis. Just as the forest, rampaged by fire, now naked, will once again be blessed with trees, millions of them, even more than were burned to the ground, so will Israel, desolate for so many years, once again shine bright, reflecting the light of Judaism in Eretz Yisrael.
Those of us in Hebron and all throughout Yesha are trying to be something of an example personifying the ideals of true Judaism, spiritually and physically. We are trying to be the "real Jewish People," standing up. Join us. Will the real Jewish People PLEASE stand up!