The fight against assimilation

She refuses to be comforted for her children because they are no more.

July 27, 2019 23:53
3 minute read.
American and Israeli Jews [Illustrative]

American and Israeli Jews [Illustrative]. (photo credit: REUTERS)

One of the most important, complex and difficult challenges faced by Diaspora Jewry is the fight against assimilation, which is affecting Jews everywhere.

The expression “refused to be comforted” appears twice in the Hebrew Bible. The first time is in the story of Joseph and his brothers. The brothers return home and tell their father, Jacob, that “a wild beast has devoured” Joseph and that Joseph is dead, placing his clothes before Jacob. The Torah tells us, “And Jacob mourned for his son many days and all his sons and all his daughters arose to console him.” But Jacob “refused to be comforted.”

This begs the question: Why did Jacob refuse to be comforted? Did Jacob not know that mourning has a limit? There is a time to cry and a time to be silent. Why did Jacob refuse to accept the consolation?

What we have here is a foundation of the Jewish faith. At first glance, faith is found in the ability to be consoled. Tragedy strikes, there is suffering and destruction, and a Jew accepts the judgment and says: “The Rock; His work is perfect.” He resigns himself to the facts and views them as the will of the Creator. Ostensibly, this is the apex of faith. However, there is a faith which is higher than that: the refusal to be comforted. We agree to be comforted when we believe that hope is lost. Deep in his heart, Jacob knew that Joseph was still alive. The refusal to be comforted is a victory of hope over desperation. Throughout the generations, it has also characterized the belief our forefathers had in the building of Jerusalem.

When the city was destroyed and the Temple was burned down, the Jewish people refused to be consoled. We remember Jerusalem and mention it every opportunity – in prayers and when saying grace after a meal. At joyous occasions, we break a glass vessel to remember Jerusalem. If a Jew whitewashes his home, he leaves an empty corner in memory of the city. The verse, “If I forget thee, Jerusalem, may my right hand wither” has accompanied the Jewish people since biblical times.

THE SECOND case in which consolation was refused occurred when Jeremiah reflected on the loss of 10 of the 12 tribes: “A voice was heard in Rama, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children and refuses to be comforted because they are no more.”

Today we see Jews distancing themselves from Torah and detaching themselves from Jewish tradition. There are two possible responses to this situation.

There are those who will be consoled and say: That is the way of the world and it is the will of the Creator. Jewish continuity, both physical and spiritual, will be sustained by the people loyal to Zion, to Jerusalem and to Jewish tradition. That is how it was in the past, that is how it is in the present, and that is how it will be in the future. We must accept this. The situation cannot be changed.

There is, however, another response we can learn from “refuses to be comforted.” There is no consolation. We must continue our struggle and have hope. Change is definitely possible. We cannot be comforted and we must have faith. Assimilation can and must be countered using all the tools available to us. We have to bring people closer to their faith and to Jewish tradition so they will remain part of the Jewish people.

The war against assimilation is the most important battle being waged by the Jewish people today. The most effective way to win it is through education, which offers the sole guarantee for overcoming this painful phenomenon. We must enlist all our strengths and brainpower. All those who are on the front line, in each and every place, must lend a hand in this battle and put their fingers in the huge dike to hold back the gushing water, which is jeopardizing the resilience of the Jewish people and their spiritual continuity.

The shlichim (emissaries) of religious Zionism are hard at work in hundreds of Jewish communities across the globe. Their goal is to cultivate the connection with Jewish heritage and strengthen the bond with the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

We all share the hope that the vision of the prophet Jeremiah – “There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and the children shall return to their own land” – will quickly be fulfilled in our lifetime.

The writer is a member of the World Zionist executive and head of the Center for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora.

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