15 Av, 5767
July 30, 2007
Intense. Gentle. That is my Israel.
I feel like I fit into living here when I balance myself somewhere in between the intense and the gentle.
The bare headed driver may not speak at all or he may yell, but I am not surprised when he wishes me a warm and gentle Shabbat Shalom as I leave the cab.
The crowds impatiently push from behind and rudely cut in front of me, then one or another will stop to help someone struggling with their bags; to gently comfort a lost child and wait until aba or ima comes to claim him; or to give tzedeka to one (or all) of the dozens of collectors holding out a weary hand, whom we pass by every day.
This seems contradictory to the western mind. But, maybe it is we who have it wrong. Maybe this is what achdus is. Realizing-despite my drive to have it my way, get things done, judge the situation-there is something greater than me: We all struggle with our baggage and need help carrying our burdens, we are all lost children, needing someone to hold on to while we wait for our Father’s answer, we are all dependent on kindness, mercy, acknowledgement-we all have our hand out for something.
Living here means: peeling back my western facade, unburying my Jewish soul, digging deep and getting dirty, sifting through and making discoveries about myself, the Jewish people and our role here on this earth.
There is lots of inspiration for this self excavation: the unburying process is in action all around. My route to the Kotel takes me past a huge project at the back of the plaza where a Roman era road with stalls and arches has been uncovered. A jackhammer pounding at the Mugrahbi Gate excavation clashes with the sound of the sephardi women’s jubilant “yodel” on the women’s side every Bar Mitzvah morning. Ir David, just outside the Dung Gate, reveals a city once alive with the holy purpose of providing shelter and livelihood to residents of Yerushalayim. This unburying all dates back to one day in our history-Tisha B’Av.
The 9th of Av here is not gentle. It entered with heavy trepidation. On the afternoon before, everyone on the bus, in the café, makolet, on the street was subdued, all of us aware of its impending entry.
At the Kotel for mincha, Tisha b’Av loomed large above the few of us there, like the sense of impending doom. Even the birds were still. The air actually felt “empty.” Empty of that sweetness I always notice the moment I step outside. Empty of the joy that accompanies prayer and empty of the shmira, protection, we count on from our loving Father. Empty of the Bait HaMikdash that should be crowning the Har HaBayit just above our heads.
Evening descended, the air cooled, but remained still. It was eerily quiet walking back from Eicha on the Old City streets. I could actually hear the anguished screams of agony from our people who lost everything that day, on the very paths and in the remains of homes that lay below our feet.
One of those homes, the Burnt House, was open on Tisha b’Av afternoon. Down many meters of stairs one may enter the scene of a grand home in Jerusalem where a family of Kohanim lived until the time of the churban. Although only part of walls of the basement area still stand, archeologists found the remains of a kitchen, work rooms, and a mikveh buried under a layer of ash and soot, indicating that the house had been burned down at that horrific time.
A short movie set the scene of how integral the Beit HaMikdash was to us, told the story of the brutality of the Roman conquerors and left us wondering: what is it that we still need to do, Hashem? What is it can we not see about ourselves? What is it that we have not been able to change in ourselves in all the centuries that have passed?
On my first Tisha B’Av living in Jerusalem, I felt more in galus than ever. Surrounded by the potential to be present in the glory of a rebuilt Yerushalayim, we stand face to face with our failure.
But it is only the failure to see what greatness lies within us.
That is what we have to build upon. The greatness-the holiness we find in one another will bring the geula. The greatness-the holiness we yearn for in Eretz Yisrael-will bring the geula. This is how the Beit HaMikdash will be rebuilt, I am sure of it.
Rebuilding the Jewish people can happen one cab ride at a time. The driver’s essence is the “shalom,” in his “Shabbat Shalom.” One pushy person may be running late because he stopped to help someone with their bags. If she rudely cuts in line, remember she will probably loose her turn if she can help a crying child. It is not for us to judge the one with his hand out-we all have ours out, too.
Rebuilding also means helping Jews find their way out of the ashes of Rome. Western values meters thick obliterate still today-how great it is to be a Jew. We can help Jews who never knew a warm Shabbos table and a loving G-d who takes an interest in every nuance of His world. Rebuilding them rebuilds the Beit HaMikdash.
There is lots of inspiration for rebuilding going on here. As I walk out of Jaffa Gate towards Rechov Yaffo, I turn count maybe 15 cranes, their long arms stretching to erect new apartments for the streams of people making Jerusalem home. Schools for their children, buildings for them to pray in, work in, shop in. Roads, parks, tunnels. In our own “front Yard,” the magnificent Churva Synagogue-destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948, has reclaimed its place in the skyline, as it rises once again above the Rova Square.
All this in preparation, I am sure, for the return of the true Glory of Yerushalayim, may we all merit to see it soon.