Fond of Staying Alive
Week of August 7, 2022
This update is based on a column by Daniel Gordis, a Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. (1)
Sieges: Here we go again.
This time it’s Islamic Jihad, not Hamas. Still, though, it could feel like the “same old.” Once again, Israel went to war in Gaza. Once again, someone fired, the other side returned the fire, civilians on both sides lived in terror. Except that it was not really the “same old” because this time, Israel fired first. After days of compelling its citizens in Gaza-adjacent communities to stay inside their homes, after days of highway closures, trains not running, life entirely on hold because terrorists were upset that Israel had arrested one of their leaders and threatened to rain missiles down on Israel, Israel took the first step.
“Siege,” interestingly, has been very much on the minds of traditional Jews for the past few weeks. One cannot understand the enormous significance of Israel striking first without a sense of Jewish history and what happened thousands of years ago. For millennia, Jews have taught their history, one generation to the next, largely through their calendar.
For the past few weeks, traditional Jews have been in a period of muted mourning that grew more intense with the beginning of the month of Av and culminated with the observance of the Ninth of Av (August 7th). As tradition has it, Jerusalem’s walls were first breached after months of siege (in 586 BCE by the Babylonians with the First Temple and in 70 CE by the Romans with the Second), and ends with the Ninth of Av when the invaders reached the Temple and burned it.
Those ancient sieges spelled disaster for the Jewish people. The destruction of the First Temple led to a massive and infamous exile of the Jews from the Land of Israel. Never again, since that exile, has a plurality of the Jewish people lived in the Land of Israel. The first exile brought much of biblical Judaism to an end. The second destruction ended biblical Jewish life for good.
There are those who ask, quite understandably, why we still mourn on the Ninth of Av, given that Jerusalem is rebuilt. The answer is that this mourning is part of the pageant called Jewish life that keeps history very much alive. It is also a reminder that the sieges never end. That the threat of destruction never disappears. That Jewish life in the Jews’ ancestral homeland requires vigilance, courage, determination – or it vanishes in flames. It is a reminder that though much has changed, much has not. Two thousand years later, Jerusalem is still under threat. Two thousand years later, Israel is often besieged. Two thousand years later, enemies promise our imminent demise.
Israelis are fond of staying alive.
They don’t have the luxury of valorizing victimhood, because it is their children who might be the victims. They don’t have the option of sanctifying weakness, because they know that the minute that they are weak, they could also be dead.
Israelis take Islamic Jihad’s warnings seriously. As a friend of mine commonly says to me, quoting his father who survived Auschwitz,
“If you’re a Jew and your enemy threatens to kill you, believe him.”
Israelis are not embarrassed that they are citizens of a country that is perhaps the greatest story of human triumph in history. Israelis are not ashamed to be citizens of a country that brought Jewish life back from the precipice, and are determined to fashion a new way of being Jewish in history. Israelis came to Israel to live, and USIEA is proud to support Israel by providing education to enhance the U.S.-Israel collaboration.
Wishing you a quiet week,