This year, in this season of national mourning culminating in Tisha b’Av, we have our own aggadot churban or stories of destruction. It is not only past history we will be grieving when we read the melancholy Book of Lamentations (Eicha), but current events. We will be grieving our brave and holy Israeli soldiers, who died protecting our people and out land.
It is to so painful, one by one, to hear of their loss. I look at their photos, read a little about each one, read their heart wrenching final letters to their families, listen to the eulogies . . . the heart is anguished.
Then there are the wounded. Wounds that change your life forever.
Then there are the soldiers who, despite seeing their comrades around them dying and attending their funerals on a few hours leave from Gaza, return to Gaza, scarred yet strong, with a sense of clarity and mission in protecting the people of Israel.
It breaks the heart. These brave “soldiers” are but kids. Half my age.
They are the towering protectors we look to.
G-d be with them!
Piecemeal, since the Yom Kippur War in 1973, my parents and siblings and I, collectively as a family, have been through every conflict in Israel.
My parents moved to Israel when I was a baby, right before the Yom Kippur War. I was in elementary school for the First Lebanon War. I remember the tense feeling of those days as classmates fathers were called up to serve, some gone for long stretches; and then came the news that one of them would never come back.
Then for high school my family moved to Denver. However, we travelled to Israel for two weeks to celebrate my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, during the first Intifadah.
The Gulf War broke out during one of my sister’s gap year in Israel.
I lived there through the second Intifada and the Second Lebanon War.
One of my brothers moved to Israel 17 years ago and now my younger brother has volunteered in Israel this summer, teaching English as a second language to disadvantaged Israeli youth, arriving just as Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were kidnapped.
That’s a lot of war (not including the PLO bus bombings of my childhood).
Born of these experiences, regardless of where we each have landed, we have our intense connection with the land.
But I stop and think about Israelis who, unlike the piecemeal experience of my family, hold the memories and scars of all of these conflicts within themselves. They had no one to divide the pain with — OK, you take this war, I’ll take that one. They carry the wounds and memories of every single battle. And the older someone is, the farther back it goes. To the Six Day War 1967. The Suez Crisis of 1956. The War of Independence 1948. The Arab riots of 1936-1939. And now, in recent years, to the Russian roulette rain of rockets on Israel causing three incursions into Gaza: 2008-2009; 2012; and now Tsuk Eitan, “Protective Edge.”
Last Monday was rosh chodesh, the first day of the month of Av. The Mishnah states: “With the coming of the month of Av, joy is diminished” (Ta’anit 26b).
As if we needed a reminder this year. There is no joy to try to suppress. There is just palpable grief and sadness.
For this year’s dirges of kinot, just look at the newspaper.
Aggadot churban — stories of destruction — 2014. Like a punch to the gut, on rosh chodesh, 10 ten more young beautiful Israeli soldiers were on their way heavenward.
Yet, as sadness ushers in this month as tangibly as a host welcoming a guest, it cannot take away the feeling of joy that at least at this time there is a sense of being steeped in unconditional love for the Jewish people, and the pride most of us feel in enveloping our beloved soldiers in love and support.
Be it through cakes and other treats baked for them by thousands of Jews from all walks of life, from the secular to the chasidim of Amshinov, Belz and Sanz, and delivered personally at the Gaza border; through money sent to Yashar Lechayal, through handwritten cards, funds raised overnight for various campaigns, yeshiva boys stringing tzitzit or taking to social media to fight the PR media battle, it feels like everyone is involved in one huge hug and embrace around the IDF.
All of this, while the wet tears of mourning persist.
Netivot Shalom writes that the nature of Jewish tears are tears of hope. This is how he interprets the verse in Exodus when Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter, discovers Moses: “And when she opened the ark she saw the child; and behold, a weeping boy. And she had compassion on him, and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrew children.”
Batya saw and was moved by baby Moses’ tears. And in these tears she perceived she was holding a Jewish baby. Those tears are the ones that turned out to be the first in a long process of redemption for the Jewish people.
Tears are a part of who we are. Tears of yearning for redemption. Tears of sadness for the other when innocents suffer, such as the tragedy of innocent Palestinian children dying in this conflict.
Mostly, though, the Slonimer Rebbe says, we must sure these tears remain tears of hope.
Despite the sorrow of the month of Av, of the loss of the Jewish Temples and the exile of the Jewish people, this month is known as Menachem Av, “the consolation of Av” (Av literally translating as father). Despite this year’s sorrow in Av, from its first day till its saddest day, Tisha b’Av, the ninth of Av, let us hope that with the unfolding of this difficult month it will indeed offer some consolation.
It seems Eyal Gilad and Naftali have saved the Jewish people. Laced within the excruciating pain of their story, we now know what we didn’t know when they were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood.
Their kidnapping is what set into motion this chain of events that has now led to Israel knowing about the tunnels of terror leading straight into Israeli homes, penetrating kibbutzim, kindergartens and playgrounds — a labyrinth of tunnels that were to release hundreds of terrorists in what would have been the worst terrorist massacre.
It seems, because of these three teens, Israel managed a narrow escape from this fate. All those 18 days of prayers and unprecedented unity — who knows how it all affected what came next, the new threat revealed just in time.
G-d’s ways are a mystery. I am not making a direct correlation. But it is hard to ignore the sequence of events. Nothing mitigates the pain of the boys or these fresh losses of soldiers, many of whom are just boys themselves. But we now see that they did not die in vain—that a massive terrorist invasion was averted.
Let us hope that in the aggadot churban, the stories of destruction of 2014, a spark of aggadot nechamah, stories of consolation of 2014, will unfold in the month of consolation, Menachem Av.
Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News