A people with no past, or a people that refuses to recognize its past, has no future.
Many events, despite their joy and festivity, may also have bittersweet shadows lurking behind them.
It is customary at every Jewish wedding, that under the huppa, or wedding canopy, the groom recites the words from Psalms 137:5-6: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not; if I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy." In some traditions the groom also places ashes on his forehead, recalling the destruction of the second Temple, and breaks a glass as an expression of loss. Even on the happiest of occasions, we recall the depths of sorrow at the loss of our most significant national enterprises, Jerusalem and the Temple.
ON THURSDAY night I attended a wedding. The daughter of one of Hebron's leaders was married in Jerusalem. As is wont at such weddings, the groom rubbed two sets of ashes on his forehead: ashes discovered in the Old City of Jerusalem, from the fire 2,000 years ago which destroyed the city, and also dust from Gush Katif, razed and obliterated almost three years ago, this summer.
However, this past Thursday night had a particularly poignant significance. The groom was a graduate of Mercaz HaRav High School. He knew many of the young men killed there by an Arab terrorist just a few weeks ago. The night of his marriage was also the "shloshim" - the 30th day following the murders. That night there was also a large memorial service at the yeshiva in memory of the young victims.
So, when the groom recited the words, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem," all the people in attendance were remembering not only the Temple from two millennium ago, but the deaths of those eight students, only a short time ago.
This is, perhaps, the story of Judaism: a combination of sadness and happiness, mixed together, making for the Jewish people.
SOME EVENTS can be understood; others are difficult to fathom. We are currently celebrating the first anniversary of the conclusion of the purchase of Beit HaShalom in Hebron. Exactly a year ago attorneys gave us the green light, and in we went. This huge, 3,500 square meter structure, strategically located on the road between Hebron and Kiryat Arba, was the first property purchased outside of the borders of the original Jewish neighborhoods. The roof of the building serves as a lookout, with a view of Kiryat Arba to the east and the Hebron Hills to the south. It is an amazing sight; on the one hand, exceedingly beautiful, and on the other hand, a bona fide security asset.
Israel is on the verge of a 60th birthday. Since the birth of the state in 1948, despite all the problems encountered, Israel has made tremendous achievements. Who could have expected that a people being shoveled into ovens only a few years before, with over six million of their brethren exterminated, could overcome all odds and bring an ancient nation back to life, a feat unequaled by any other culture or nationality in the history of the world. It certainly does deserve to be celebrated.
However I cannot but sense that this celebration is somewhat bittersweet with the case in point an excellent example, a microcosm of issues continually encountered.
The Jews came back home to Israel; but to what kind of an Israel? Of course growth and development are measures of success. But do we remember where we've come from? Do we take into account the triumphs upon which modern Israel was born? Do we recall the bedrock which serves as the justification for the rebirth of our people in our homeland?
HEBRON WAS the first Jewish city in the land of Israel, home to our patriarchs and matriarchs. The Cave of Machpela is our people's second holiest site, after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It was off-limits to Jews for 700 years, until Hebron came under Israeli control in the 1967 Six-Day War. As we celebrate 60 years of independence, so too we observe 40 years since the return of Jewish residency in Hebron during Passover of 1968.
Yet when Jews legally purchase a building in Hebron, 60 years after the rebirth of our statehood, such a transaction is automatically shrouded in controversy. So much so that the families in the building were prevented from installing glass windows throughout a snowy and rainy winter. At present they still may not install plastic shades on the windows, nor may they hook up the building to the city's central electric services. This is not due to any question of the legality of the purchase, but rather to a fundamental question: Can Jews continue to live, grow and develop freely in Hebron?
How can we, as a people, justify our existence in Tel Aviv or Haifa, if we do not recognize the validity of our presence in Hebron? If we cannot accept and respect the very pillars upon which our statehood lies, a peek into a crystal ball of the days and years to come looks dismal and bleak. A people with no past, or a people that refuses to recognize its past, has no future.
A Jewish purchase of a building such as Beit HaShalom in Hebron should not be viewed as "problematic." Instead it should be cheered on as a positive step in the renewal of Israel's oldest city.
The time has come for Jews throughout Israel and around the world to declare their allegiance to Hebron.
This Op-Ed piece was published this week in the Jerusalem Post.
THE JERUSALEM POST Apr. 8, 2008