Life might be easier around here if we were not only Jewish but blue-ish. This
was my conclusion as I tried recently to explain the significance of Tisha
Be’av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, when we commemorate the
destruction of the First and Second Temples, some 655 years apart, and a whole
host of other calamities that struck the Jewish People on the same date,
including the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.
communities in the Diaspora, Tisha Be’av is marked, but it is not felt in the
same way that it is felt in Israel, and particularly in Jerusalem.
hard for Jews abroad to explain to their non-Jewish friends, bosses and
colleagues that they are fasting and refraining from wearing leather shoes – and
not even washing or shaving – as a sign of mourning for the Temples that were
destroyed more than 2,000 years ago. That the Orthodox refrain from eating meat
or enjoying music and other forms of entertainment for up to three weeks before
the sad day is not so immediately evident, although I surprised a diplomatic
delegation a week ago when I turned down a working lunch because it had
accidentally been scheduled for the 17th of Tamuz, a fast day marking the date
Jerusalem’s walls were breached by the Romans.
Many foreign diplomats
find it difficult to understand the complexities of what they refer to as the
“current conflict” in the Middle East, failing to realize that events millennia
ago still have an impact. That’s one reason why there is not going to be a
magic, instant solution no matter how many times they threaten that “time is
In Israel, there is a slew of activities surrounding Tisha
Be’av, including lectures and introspective gatherings, and shoe stores are
doing a brisk business selling plastic and canvas footwear. Only in Israel are
Crocs marketed this time of year as perfect for Tisha Be’av.
former US president Bill Clinton said in his address at the 90th birthday
celebrations for Shimon Peres last month took me temporarily out of this world.
Peres, by the way, seems to be aiming to be around to personally witness the
next 2,000 years of Jewish history – and to make it a happier
Clinton referred to the greeting he had heard in Rwanda, “I see
The words didn’t take me to Rwanda, where the Agahozo-Shalom Youth
Village based on the Israeli model provides a home and school for genocide
orphans. They transported me to the mythical world of Pandora as depicted in the
James Cameron movie Avatar where this is the common greeting of the bluecolored,
humanoid Na’vi people.
Ever since the film was released in 2009, commentators have noted apparent similarities between the Na’vi and the Jews.
In an article titled “Avatar & the Jews,” on
the aish.com website, Rabbi Benjamin Blech, for example, wrote: “The name of the
heroic people who live in the Garden-of-Eden-like planet of Pandora is Na’vi.
I’ve had people tell me this couldn’t have anything to do with the Hebrew word
navi that means prophet. After all there is no suggestion that these primitives
were able to predict the future. But the truth is – and it seems Cameron knew
this – the root word navi really means seer, someone with the capacity to see
more than others.
And that is exactly the point of the
“With all of the technological prowess of the earthly invaders,
the humans who came to despoil this new-found planet simply could not see what
the far simpler and ‘less civilized’ inhabitants recognized so clearly. The
Na’vis worshiped not themselves or their achievements but a higher supreme
power. And could it be mere coincidence that the name of the God they revered,
eywa, is but the re-arranged letters of the Tetragrammaton, the holy four-letter
name for the Almighty that Jews do not even dare to pronounce as written?” In
the movie, paraplegic former Marine Jake Sully is part of a corporate mission
that conquers Pandora and drives the natives out of their woodland habitat to
mine it for a precious metal. In a wrenching scene, they even destroy the
Omaticaya people’s sacred Tree of Souls.
As one reviewer summed up,
incredibly, by the end of screenings in movie houses in places like Texas, the
audience was shouting support for the imaginary, blue, 10-foot figures in their
battle against invading American ex-Marines.
For as the scientist Dr.
Grace Augustine put it in the film: “Those trees were sacred to the Omaticaya in
a way you can’t imagine...
“I’m not talking about pagan voodoo here – I’m
talking about something REAL and measurable in the biology of the forest... It’s
a network – a global network. And the Na’vi can access it – they can upload and
download data – memories – at sites like the one you just
Trying to describe the utter centrality of the Temples today
But in the same way that the Hometree is more than “just
a goddamn tree” – as corporate figurehead Parker Selfridge describes it in the
movie – so were the Temples more than just stones.
We’ll probably never
know the true nature of the Temples, but they housed a force so powerful that
even their destruction two millennia ago could not eradicate it.
Babylonians destroyed the First Temple in 586 BCE, beginning 48 years of Exile,
but were not able to sever the Jews’ connection to Jerusalem. The Romans
destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE, killing about one million Jews during the
siege of Jerusalem alone.
In a warning we would do well to recall today,
it is believed that the Second Temple was destroyed because of “sinat hinam,”
“causeless hatred,” among the Jewish communities of the time.
all-too-brief, three-year period of restored Jewish sovereignty during the
Shimon Bar-Kochba Revolt, the Romans again conquered Jerusalem and Judea,
renaming the former Aelia Capitolina and the latter Syria Palaestina.
Romans were replaced by Byzantines, who were ousted by Persians and Greeks, who
were overtaken by Crusaders, before the Mamelukes turned it into a provincial
backwater ruled from Damascus in the Middle Ages. In more recent history, it was
the turn of the Ottoman Turks, for four centuries, and the British for some 30
For a mere 19 years, between 1948 – when the Old City of Jerusalem
was lost to Arab forces – and 1967, when Israel reunited the city after Jordan
joined in the Six Day War in an attempt to annihilate the young reborn Jewish
state, the Hashemite Kingdom held the city.
None of these rulers made it
their capital, let alone the absolute center of their world.
Jews did that.
The miracle is not that we survived the calamities that
befell us generation after generation, it’s that for more than 2,000 years we
never ceased mourning the destruction and praying for a speedily rebuilt
Planning an overseas radio interview that happens to fall on
Tisha Be’av, I was asked this week if I’d like to discuss Stephen Hawking’s
boycott of Peres’s birthday celebrations. I found myself replying that Hawking’s
boycott, like Clinton’s appearance, were old news by Israeli standards – unlike
the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
If it sounds strange – and
desperately politically incorrect – imagine that instead of the Jews yearning
for their lost Sanctuaries, it were some figure of a filmmaker’s imagination who
didn’t stop dreaming of longuprooted sacred sites.
This is not Disney
World. This is real life. It’s much more powerful than the movies.The
writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.