In Plain Language: The light at the end of the tunnel

Come to Israel from Nisan to Iyar.

CELEBRATING INDEPENDENCE DAY at Sacher Park in Jerusalem. Our greatest triumphs have generally come on the heels of our greatest tragedies (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
CELEBRATING INDEPENDENCE DAY at Sacher Park in Jerusalem. Our greatest triumphs have generally come on the heels of our greatest tragedies
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A word to the brothers and sisters still stuck in the Diaspora: if there is only one time during the year that you can come to visit Israel, it should be from 14 Nisan through 6 Iyar.
During this extraordinary three-week window, you will gaze upon the real Israel, and you will learn pretty much everything you need to know about the uniqueness of this place we Jews call home.
It begins with Passover, the most popular of all Jewish holidays. It is estimated that more than 90 percent of Israel’s Jews attended a Seder and ate matza on the first night of the holiday, while refraining from eating bread. This is a staggering figure, considering that roughly half the population defines itself as “secular.” And is there any Jewish Israeli in the entire state who does not know what “hametz” and “Had Gadya” mean – or who is unable to correctly pronounce them? No sooner, however, do the upbeat festivities end and the Passover dishes are returned to storage, than we abruptly switch emotional gears and immerse ourselves into what arguably are the two saddest days in our calendar. In rapid succession, we hold somber memorial ceremonies for the murdered, martyred six million victims of the Holocaust – that figure, many researchers now believe, may actually be closer to seven million – and then for the fallen soldiers of our armed forces, along with the victims of Palestinian terrorism. Cafés and shops close, sirens bring all activity to a halt, and the nation sheds a collective tear for those who paid the ultimate price for being Jewish – and Israeli.
And then, almost before those tears have dried, it is time for Independence Day, a boisterous, cathartic outpouring of joy and gratitude for having succeeded in accomplishing – and continuing to accomplish – the “impossible dream” of resurrecting a country, a language, a people and a destiny, turning what once was whimsical fancy into undeniable fact.
I have often pondered the ambiguous mix of these sacred days. Why do we rock back and forth between the highest highs and the lowest lows of our history? Why can’t we create neat little compartments for the happy and the sad, keeping them each in their own respective quadrants, where they can enjoy our unadulterated emotional attention without overlapping one another? The answer to that, of course, is that life itself – certainly for the Jew – is never “neat,” orderly or predictable. Our greatest triumphs have generally come on the heels of our greatest tragedies, and even as we genuinely celebrate our good fortune, we are painfully aware that we are surrounded by despicable enemies and are unable to let down our guard, even for a moment.
But it’s more than just that. We would not begin to appreciate what it means to have our own country, with a superb army and a vibrant economy, with the ability to fulfill the full measure of Jewish observance and the opportunity to raise our children in a Jewish-friendly environment, unless we also bore witness to just how bad it could be. The true realization of the blessings we enjoy today – and they are many – are amplified a hundredfold when we reflect upon the horrible losses we sustained in the Holocaust and in the ongoing battle for a secure state of our own.
That is why one of the greatest Zionist experiences – and one that serves our high-school children so well – is returning to Israel from a trip to Poland’s death camps and immediately stopping at the Kotel to pray. The transition from slave to citizen, from persecuted to powerful, drives home in the most intense way how unbelievably fortunate we are to be where we are today.
This does not, by any means, imply that we have solved all our problems or turned the corner into Paradise.
Far from it. For even as we recall those who suffered during the Holocaust, we bitterly acknowledge that more than 50,000 of the survivors residing here in Israel live in a state of poverty, even as the Claims Conference stubbornly sits on more than a billion dollars of reparation money that has yet to be distributed.
And even as we weep over all the beautiful young lives lost in battle against our enemies over the last 66- plus years, we cringe at and curse the foolish freeing of Palestinian murderers, and our government’s refusal to deliver a massive, crushing blow to those who openly seek our extermination.
When all is said and done, I remain supremely confident in our continued ascent and in the glory of our nation.
The struggle will go on, and not all the news will be bright and cheerful. But just as Independence Day caps off the four-part sequence of events on a decidedly happy note, I am sure the “last word” for us will be a positive one.
On a train to Auschwitz, filled with desperate victims who knew their end was near, one pious Jew called out to his fellow Jews: “Come, let us pray to the Almighty, for we may not have another opportunity.”
“But we have no siddur, no prayer book,” called out some of the passengers, “so how can we pray?” “I will lead the prayer,” said the man, “and you will respond.”
So he began to recite the 136th psalm, “Hodu L’hashem ki tov, ki l’olam hasdo” – “Praise God for He is good; His kindness goes on forever.” He said the first part, while the others echoed the chorus.
But when he was finished, another man angrily called out to him, “How can you possibly say that God is good, that his kindness goes on and on? Just look at where we are, and to where we are headed!” The man answered: “I say this prayer not as a Jew, but as the Jew. Perhaps for each of us, individually, our fate will not be a pleasant one. Perhaps we will indeed die, without our personal hopes fulfilled. But as a people, as a nation, we will certainly survive. We will emerge from this dismal darkness into great light, and we will witness the hessed, the kindness that God will ultimately perform for Israel.”
We have indeed traveled through a long, long tunnel of tragedy. But the memorial candles that we solemnly kindle this past and coming week are the surest sign that we will bask in the light at the end of that tunnel.
■ The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana;,
His eldest son, Sgt. Ari Weiss, fell in battle in Nablus in 2002.