Friday, March 07, 2008

This One Really Hurts

Months, years even, of thousands of rockets fired into Sderot. I visit to see what it’s like to live with that strain on a regular basis. I see the extensive property damage with my own eyes. I talk to women on the street about their heightened sense of emunah, living in a place where you are desperately aware that every day, life is a crapshoot. I try to help in the way Diaspora Jews know best. I visit to see it firsthand. I leave money behind after my visit. I care, but I want to care more.

It’s less than 12 hours from the time of today’s terrorist attack in Jerusalem and my head is spinning more than usual.

This one really hurts. And I can’t identify why. Why does the death of 8 yeshiva students in Jerusalem hurt more than tens of thousands of lives destroyed in Sderot? Why does this pigua bring me to tears and the news report about Ashdod, several kilometers north of Ashkelon, preparing to be the next target, raise in me more a sense of living in Chelm where everyone is a little skewed?

I spend the day catching up with friends and acquaintances who have children studying or living in Jerusalem. Thank G-d, so far, all the children I know are safe and accounted for.

It brings me back July 31, 2002 and the terrorist bombing at Hebrew University. Nine dead, including a colleague whose known whereabouts put her on campus at the time of the bombing. It took hours and multiple phone calls to learn her fate. Janis Coulter, assistant director of Hebrew University’s program for overseas students had arrived in Jerusalem the day before the attack, escorting a group of American college students who had enrolled for their junior year abroad. Janis was eating lunch with them in the cafeteria when the bomb exploded and she lost her life. Just as suddenly, and pointlessly, as the yeshiva students today.

The symbolism of an attack at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, the home of religious Zionism in the very center of Jerusalem, is not lost. There were bloodthirsty people behind this tragedy. But what is Hashem saying to us?

I sat in my office with a colleague immediately after hearing the news and said, “This is our fault. Hashem is angry that He has thrown open the gates of Israel and millions and millions of us have said, ‘Thanks but no thanks.’”

We are reliving the challenge in the time of Ezra. Roughly 70 years after the destruction of the First Temple, Ezra was given permission from Cyrus, King of Persia, to lead the Jews back to Judea (Israel) and rebuild the Temple. Of the tens of thousands of Jews who had been exiled to Bavel (Babylonia), only a very small number listened to Ezra and returned with him. Most preferred to stay in Bavel where they had carved out lives for themselves, thus creating the first community of “Diaspora Jews by Choice”.

Ironically, I taught this very lesson today in a Jewish history seminar.

Here’s one thing Hashem might be saying. “Look folks. In order to help you wake up and come Home, I’m going to show you what a people is willing to do when they want your Land more than you do.”

Hashem must be profoundly disgusted by our stubborn insistence on clinging to, even building enhancements to, our lives in America.