Tradition Today: Triumphing over adversity

Living here we often begin to take the Jewish state for granted and do not see it for the wonder that it is.

chabad bar mitzvah 88 29 (photo credit: Sharon Matityahu)
chabad bar mitzvah 88 29
(photo credit: Sharon Matityahu)
During the three weeks between the 17th of Tamuz and Tisha Be'av I participated in a bat mitzva at Robinson's Arch, the section of the Western Wall popularly known as Hakotel Hamasorti. Personally I prefer that part to the more well-known Kotel for many reasons. The Western Wall Plaza is a large, open space, well suited for its purpose, but it lacks the more intimate feeling of Robinson's Arch, which seems more lived-in and more immediately connected to history. At Robinson's Arch, the Wall has been excavated to the very bottom. The area next to it contains actual streets on which people strolled when going to the Temple. You can walk into the remnants of stores where they bought their provisions. And perhaps most affecting of all are the piles of massive stones that lie where they landed on Tisha Be'av in the year 70 CE when the Roman forces hurled them down from the upper part of the western retaining wall of the Temple complex. There is something almost surreal about praying there and celebrating a young girl's entrance into Jewish maturity at such a site, especially at that time of year, an affirmation of the continuity of Jewish life which the Romans thought they had suppressed by their destructive actions. This particular bat mitzva had an added dimension. The young lady's grandfather is a Holocaust survivor who spent his formative teenage years behind the barbed wire of a concentration camp. His entire family was murdered in the Shoah and he alone survived. With tremendous effort and willpower he recreated his life, dedicated himself to Jewish education and to perpetuation of knowledge of the Shoah, and raised a family. This bat-mitzva girl is his oldest grandchild. So we were celebrating not only the triumph of the Jewish people over the Romans, but also the triumph of one man over the Nazi empire, the continuity of one Jewish family that the Nazis did not succeed in eradicating. It should also be noted that this was not only survival, but meaningful survival. The bat-mitzva girl attends a Solomon Schechter school in America and was able to lead the entire service, read the Torah and deliver a well-thought-out talk on the Torah portion. She had chosen having her bat mitzva in Jerusalem over the elaborate parties often held in America because Israel is important to her. For her and her family, although they live in America, Israel remains a vital and important part of their lives as committed Jews. They appreciate the miracle that is Israel. Living here we often begin to take the Jewish state for granted and do not see it for the wonder that it is. Constantly exposed to its faults and flaws, we may forget that the very existence of Israel is not to be taken for granted or dismissed lightly. After all, what were the chances of a people exiled for 2,000 years reviving its national life in the territory it had not ruled in all that time? What were the chances that after the Shoah, the most terrible example of genocide in history, when one out of every three Jews was murdered, when the largest and greatest centers of Jewish life that had existed for centuries were wiped off the face of the earth, the Jewish people would be able to establish a state and defend it against so many determined enemies? And yet from the small community of Jews that existed here then, Israel has now become the largest gathering of Jews in the world. More than that, its existence has given life to Jewish communities elsewhere. Had Israel not been established when it was, would even the American Jewish community have become as vital as it has? Would it have established the institutions, the schools and synagogues that enabled this girl and others like her to be as well educated and committed as she is? I am inclined to doubt it. This year in particular has been a difficult one for us. We have often sunk into despair not only because of our external problems, but because we have seen our government and our political and religious leadership tainted by corruption and incompetence. We have seen the growth of poverty, the insensitivity to human needs, the neglect of Shoah survivors, the decline of our educational system, and we often say to ourselves, "This is not the Israel we dreamed of." So every once in a while it is important to stop and be reminded that nevertheless the country and its very existence are miraculous and of vital importance to the future of the Jewish people and Jewish civilization. This should therefore double our resolve to reverse the trends that have distressed us and find again the way to make of this the place we want it to be. That will be the ultimate triumph. The writer is an author and lecturer who serves as the head of the Rabbinical Court of the Masorti Movement.