'Women were ravished in Zion, and maidens in the cities of Judah,' says the Book of Lamentations, describing one of the devastating punishments visited upon the Jewish people when the first Temple was destroyed. Nearly 2,000 years ago, it was an outside enemy, the Babylonians, who destroyed the lives of innocent women.
Today in Israel, we again can hear the cry of women ravished in Zion, however, this time we are the perpetrators. We have brought the dark plague of human trafficking to this land.
According to a report released by the Knesset subcommittee on Trafficking in Women in 2005, between 3,000 and 5,000 women have been brought into Israel to work as prostitutes during the past four years. The young women, who are mostly from the former Soviet Union, are sold at auctions and forced to work up to 18 hours a day. They earn an average of 3 percent of the money they bring in, and many are raped and beaten.
Some women know they are coming to Israel to work in the sex trade, but many others thought they were coming to get decent jobs and then were tricked out of their passports and money and are imprisoned in the apartments of their kidnappers. How could this happen in the country whose people know what it was like to be slaves?
An intriguing Midrash sheds light on the question.
MIDRASH Eicha Rabba 1:1 states that three central Jewish figures communicated their prophesies using the Hebrew word eicha, which means "how" or "alas."
The first one to say this word was Moses. Speaking during the last weeks of his life, Moses recalls how, many years earlier, he shared with his people a profound sense of frustration as the leader of Israel. "I said to you at that time, 'I cannot carry you alone... How [eicha] can I carry your contentiousness, your burdens and your quarrels if I am all by myself?"
The second was Isaiah. In the opening chapter of Isaiah, he laments the moral degeneration of Jerusalem and its Jewish inhabitants: "How [eicha] has the faithful city become a prostitute?" Isaiah cries. "She was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers."
The third was Jeremiah. Jeremiah's heart-wrenching book of Lamentations, which depicts the bloody destruction of Jerusalem, opens with the eicha: "How lonely sits the city once full of people. The city that was great with people has become like a widow."
I think the answer to our question, our eicha - how could human trafficking happen in a country where our own mothers, daughters and sisters were raped in the cities of Judah - is that, like Moses, we suffer from the feeling that we as individuals are powerless: Each person asks, how can I alone carry the burden of the great injustices in Israeli society?
And like the people whom Isaiah laments, we close our ears and blind our eyes in disbelief: How could our faithful Jewish cities become full of prostitutes?
We must be like the prophet Jeremiah who, I would suggest, is not only concerned that our cities, once great in terms of population, were depleted, but also that the cities that were "great with people" - that treated people decently and justly - have become scarce.
What can we as individuals do to help? Each one of us can call the editors of our newspapers to protest the sex-trade advertisements - the free conversations, the massages - which further the plight of women enslaved in prostitution. Each one of us can ask our politicians to assign monitors to the Sinai-Negev border, where most of these women are brought into the country. Each one of us can write a letter to a Knesset member asking that laws be passed so that the pimps and kidnappers receive long sentences instead of simply punishing the women, who are at best expelled from Israel if they are caught.
"How lonely sits the city once full of people." But let us join together to speak out so that the weak and defenseless are never abandoned or alone. Let us fill our cities with good people who ask eicha - how can we put an end to this terrible plague in Israel.
The writer is rabbi of Congregation Yedid Nefesh in Modi'in.
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