(Originally published in the Temple Israel Voice, July 15, 2010.)
“Free Gaza!” proclaimed many of the signs carried by the anti-Israel protesters awaiting the arrival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the Council on Foreign Relations on the East Side of Manhattan. “Free Gaza from Hamas,” remarked a woman standing near me, wearing a “Stand With Us Israel” tee-shirt. I had come to join with the ranks of Israel supporters, who turned out in much greater numbers than the Neturei Karta (an anti-Zionist sect of Satmar hasidim) and other anti-Israel activists across 68th St. The police kept us neatly collected in our separate groups, behind blue barriers, and each side chanted slogans and sweated through what must have been the hottest hour of the day.
My thoughts ran to the new reality of the Palestinian territories - rapid economic growth in the West Bank, easier movement for those Palestinians living there, and a new era of cooperation between Israeli and American authorities and the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. And then the contrast with Gaza, where Hamas ousted the Fatah-led government, and thereby condemned itself to international isolation. The Qassam rockets are not falling on southern Israel as they were a year and a half ago, but the economy is not improving in Gaza, as it is in Ramallah. The difference is stark, and we can only hope that the people of Gaza will hear from their cousins in Bethlehem and Jericho that cooperation yields good fruit, and choose a new path.
The overarching theme of the month of Av is destruction and rebuilding. The ninth day of Av is the day upon which we commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, and as we approach that day, we begin to recall those tragedies with liturgy, music, and custom, echoing the ancient, two-fold descent into the chaos wreaked by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and then the Romans in 70 CE. The period following Tish’ah Be’av is about consolation, featuring seven dedicated haftarot from the book of Isaiah for the seven weeks between the Ninth of Av and the first of Tishrei, also known as Rosh Hashanah. We call this month “menahem Av,” the comforting Av, because the latter two-thirds of the month remind us that after destruction there is rebuilding.
It is this cycle that prepares us ritually for the High Holidays. It is the breaking and healing of the Jewish soul, the mental deconstruction and reconstruction of our historic and spiritual center that girds us for the Big Ask of Yom Kippur.
As the tumultuous year of 5770 enters its final, steamy months and we begin the descent and ascent to the High Holidays, I cannot help but put this rally in Jewish perspective appropriate to the month of Av: I very much want Gaza to be rebuilt, and for it to be a thriving, cosmopolitan city wherein people can travel freely and worship as they choose, like Tel Aviv, or even Jerusalem. I want the people of Gaza to get a fair shake, but not at the expense of the people of Sderot or Ashkelon. I want the powers that be in Gaza to renounce terrorism, acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, and dedicate themselves to rebuilding their lives and their land. In Megillat Eikhah, the book of Lamentations, which we read on Tish’ah Be’av, we chant the following in mournful tones: “For these things I weep, my eyes shed tears... My children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed.” We know that the enemy of all good intentions in Israel and the Palestinian territories is Hamas; let us hope that rebuilding Gaza, in cooperation with Israel and the West, occurs speedily, in our day.