At the annual Survivors’ Memorial, held last Sunday at EDOS, one of the speakers talks about the ups and downs of Jewish life. (I attended the memorial not as a reporter, so I apologize that I do not recall who the exact speaker was.) He spoke about Passover — a holiday of joy and redemption — having just ended the previous night, and he we were, gathering to commemorate one of the darkest phases of Jewish history. Ups and downs; happiness and sadness; celebration and tragedy. The speaker said that these contradictory emotions are the fabric of Judaism and therefore Jewish history.
I’m inclined to think the speaker is correct. Judaism is a very pragmatic religion; it recognizes humankind for what it is: complex. That means sometimes we’re good, other times less so. The Bible is filled with stories of mistakes and consequences. Many of the joyous occasions are a reaction to a difficulty (for example, the Exodus from slavery; the Persian Jews defeating Haman) and others are surrounded by bad behavior (some Jews erecting and celebrating the Golden Calf while Moses is accepting the Torah). What makes Judaism inspiring is that the hope for human redemption is always there, a lesson taught to us by the Exodus. In this sense, Judaism differs greatly from Christianity in that there is no original sin, only man’s free will to choose how to behave.
These three-odd weeks, from Nisan 15 to Iyar 5, encapsulate those ups and downs. We’ve blogged about it before in “Emotional roller coaster.” We go from celebrating our liberation by G-d from the Egyptians; then, on Nisan 26, we mourn the six million Jews murdered by the Nazi genocide during WW II; then, on Iyar 4, we mourn the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces who have died to bring forth and defend the State of Israel, as well as victims of Palestinian terrorism; finally, in a catharsis of sort, on Iyar 5, we celebrate the official founding of the State of Israel in 1948.
Ups and downs, indeed. Is this mix of emotions a blessing or a curse? On one hand, it’s probably what adds to our complexity as a nation, and our ability to withstand so much and still figure out a way to thrive. On the other, it can be emotionally very difficult, and means that we as a nation have a lot of baggage. Your thoughts are welcome.
If you are the speaker, you are welcome to identify yourself!