Jewish people are alive and well, the proof is in ashes

Ashes from the destruction of the Second Temple!

Tourists look at the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, June 21, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Tourists look at the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, June 21, 2018
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Soon after the Six Day War, Rabbi Shubert Spero, prominent rabbi of the Young Israel of Cleveland, visited Jerusalem and met with Rabbi Yeshayahu Hadari, head of Yeshivat Hakotel, the rabbinic seminary built adjacent to the Western Wall. During the meeting, Rabbi Hadari gave Rabbi Spero some ashes that were discovered during excavations of the Temple Mount area, and which archeologists dated to the time of the destruction of the Second Temple.
Ashes from the destruction of the Second Temple!
Rabbi Hadari instructed Rabbi Spero to take the ashes to America and to use them for all weddings that he would perform there (it is customary to put some ashes on the forehead of a groom as he prepares for his wedding ceremony, as a reminder that his happiness cannot be complete in the face of our Temple having been burned to the ground). Rabbi Spero used these ashes for hundreds of weddings over the course of decades, connecting Diaspora Jews to their heritage in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Spero and his wife moved to Israel 36 years ago and brought the ashes with him to use during family weddings. And last week, those special ashes were placed on my son’s forehead, as he married Rabbi Spero’s great-granddaughter in Jerusalem.
For 2,000 years our ancestors prayed for our national return to Jerusalem, and yearned for the fulfillment of the biblical prophecy that a time will come when brides and grooms will rejoice in the streets of Jerusalem. We as a family experienced the fulfillment of this prophecy last week, and Rabbi Spero was able to use those special ashes from the Temple’s destruction for a fourth generation (!), signifying that despite the destruction and all the persecution that we have experienced as a people, the Jewish people are alive and well.
But there was another layer to this reality at this wedding.
On September 9, 2003, Rabbi Spero’s son-in-law, Rabbi Dr. David Applebaum, took his 20-year-old daughter Naava to get some coffee on the night before her wedding, which was scheduled to take place at the Ramat Rahel hall in Jerusalem. A Palestinian terrorist blew himself up as the Applebaums were entering Café Hillel in Jerusalem’s German Colony, and both were killed along with others.
Despite this incomprehensible tragedy, the Spero family picked themselves up and continued moving forward – contributing toward building the State of Israel and bringing more Jewish children to the Jewish state – with many young girls now carrying the name Naava with pride. And last week the families with those young Naavas danced at the Ramat Rahel hall where Naava was supposed to get married, with a huppa made partially from Naava’s wedding dress – as the family celebrated the first wedding of its fourth generation in Israel.
The Jewish people are alive and well.
And this story goes even one step deeper. The speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, honored us with his presence at the wedding and recited two blessings during the ceremony. Before he recited the blessings, Edelstein told the audience that David Applebaum was one of the people who came to visit him and other refuseniks who were trapped in the Soviet Union. David brought them Hebrew books and taught them Torah. Yuli gave public thanks to David’s family for the role that David played in helping him and other refuseniks during those trying times.
David Applebaum is no longer alive. But the people for whom he risked his life to teach Judaism in the Soviet Union are alive and well, thriving in Israel – with one of his students serving in the third-highest position in the land.
The Jewish people are alive and well.
Just two days after the wedding, Israel assassinated Islamic Jihad leader Abu al-Ata, and was then subjected to two days of more than 400 rockets fired into its cities. Imagine: 400 rockets fired into the cities of any other country in the world would bring the entire country to a standstill and would certainly lead many to consider fleeing for a safer home. But Israelis stayed strong in the face of the attacks. An iconic picture showed mothers and their babies who were born in Ashkelon’s Barzilai  Medical Center’s underground bomb shelter during the bombardment.
The Talmud teaches that the Messiah’s birthday is the Ninth of Av, the Hebrew date on which both temples were destroyed. The commentaries explain that this does not mean that the person who will be the Messiah will be born on that actual date, but that the process of the final redemption began the moment the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people were exiled from the Land of Israel. We are a people who do not lose hope and we build from our defeats, as the Bible says took place when the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt: “But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied.” (Exodus 1:12)
The Jewish people are alive and well. And given our unique ability and divine blessing to turn ashes into joy, we can rest assured that we always will be alive and well.
The writer was a member of the 19th Knesset.