From tragedy to triumph

Our economy is strong, unemployment is down, philanthropy is at an all-time high and people are happy! Even with the gravity of the security threats facing Israel, we feel safe and secure.

Israel Flag March 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel Flag March 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Years ago, a close friend and I set off on a two-week speaking tour in the US to promote a fair and balanced media initiative that had been recently launched in Israel.
Our first event took place in my home town of Los Angeles. My friend mesmerized the crowd with a speech he called “Player or Spectator of Jewish History.” Many of his messages remain with me to this day, but one in particular struck a chord.
My friend told the audience to imagine a hypothetical conversation between a 1948 soldier in the newly formed Israel Defense Forces and a family member, a concentration camp prisoner in Auschwitz in 1944. The “Israeli” tells the story, just four years later, of a Jewish state being created, with a Jewish army, Jewish currency, Jewish postage, Hebrew as a language, and everything else Israel’s creation entailed. The prisoner in Auschwitz would not have believed or accepted this as reality and would have thought the “Israeli” certifiably insane. In the blink of an eye our people went from death to life, from tragedy to triumph.
The Holocaust, followed by the creation of the State of Israel, is the starkest such example in Jewish history, but far from the only one. It is our ability to not only rise from the ashes but actually grow that makes us so unique. Judaism encourages us to learn from past experience and historic events, to help us with current challenges and to aspire for a brighter future as a result. As Viktor Frankl wrote in his classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.”
It is through this prism that we should view these past weeks of Tisha Be’av and the preceding period of mourning. There is no more tragic and gloomy time on the Jewish calendar, but this is an opportunity, both individually and as a nation, to learn and grow.
This approach comes to life in the famous Talmudic story of Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues walking on the Temple Mount. They surprisingly see a fox appear where the Holy of Holies had stood and begin to cry. Rabbi Akiva, to their dismay, begins to laugh. When asked why, he says that if the prophecy regarding the destruction came true, so too will the prophecy for redemption.
Throughout our history we have incorporated this counterintuitive and optimistic approach. Both individual and national tragedies do happen, as we all know from personal experience. The challenge is to use these experiences to catapult ourselves to new heights.
In modern times, there is no better example than the juxtaposition of Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day) and Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Independence Day). These two days, with such opposite emotional energies, highlight our national approach to commemoration and aspiration. We mourn the loss of our best and most promising youth, and smoothly transition to celebrating the present, while preparing for the future.
Unfortunately, the current state of public discourse in the domestic media and among the political opposition shows that they could greatly benefit from internalizing this approach. Instead of constantly searching for challenges and negativity, they should focus on the great achievements and success of Israel. In the name of political manipulation and media expedience, we are told daily how terrible things are and how we are on the verge of collapse – fire and brimstone at the tip of the tongue.
Our reality is somewhat different. For the fifth consecutive year, The UN Happiness Report conducted among 150 countries has put Israel as the 11th happiest country in the world. When speaking to people on the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Dimona, you hear about the burgeoning economy, the fantastic education, the new roads and trains, the sprouting hotels and vacation spots throughout our country, and much more. Our economy is strong, unemployment is down, philanthropy is at an all-time high and people are happy! Even with the gravity of the security threats facing Israel, we feel safe and secure, as we are protected by our valiant soldiers with great pride and honor.
This is not to say that challenges and difficulties don’t exist. We have yet to achieve perfection. Our narrative, though, should reflect the reality most Israelis feel, and the public debate should reflect this as well.
The tragedy of Tisha Be’av is followed by Tu Be’av, the celebration of love; the 1944 Holocaust prisoner is followed by the 1948 Israeli soldier, and Remembrance Day is followed by Independence Day.
The lesson is clear – tragedy should be acknowledged, mourned and learned from, while recognizing that triumph is bound to follow. As a nation we should acknowledge this triumph and how amazing is our lot, for it is the greatest time in our history to be a Jew living in Israel!
The writer served as chief of staff to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is now an international political consultant.