Saturday, July 29, 2006

351. Sadness, part 1

I try to stay away from politics on this blog, but I can't right now.

Last week I got into a protracted, painful discussion about Israel on an online bulletin board to which I've belonged since 1993. There are only about a hundred of us these days, and arguments are few; debates have gotten so predictable over the years that we mostly talk about mundane New York-centric issues instead, like what you should pay the cleaning person. Our little community is equivalent to hanging out at the corner bar, needing each others' presence even though only some of us love each other.

One of us is an American who lives in Beirut, where he teaches at a university. He's chosen to stay even as bombs rain down a few blocks from home. I've been reading his words for years, including recent posts assuring us that he was OK. Our responses turned into a taking of sides, and I found myself one of few--among mostly Jewish, mostly secular, and all politically left-of-center participants in the conversation--who voiced any support for Israel. I readily admitted to confusion, sadness, and horror at the killing of innocent people in Lebanon. I expressed equal horror that Hezbollah is trying to destroy Israel.

One of my rabbis pointed out this morning that we can find justification in Jewish law for both aggression and restraint at times of war--but have only recently begun to wrestle with this question, since it was a moot point for so many centuries when the Jewish people were powerless. We barely know how to argue the topic. And I admitted defeat even before the online match began; I have no idea how to find an answer, or even if one is possible. But I did voice hope that Israel would survive, since I believe the Jewish religion can't exist without a Jewish presence, or promise of such, on that patch of land. The concepts and entities of Judaism and Israel, although often in opposition, nevertheless require each others' blood and soul. Our liturgy and holy days commemorate Israel's seasons, rainfall, cycle of crops, and our yearning to be on her soil. Even as the Jewish people are spread firmly throughout the diaspora, that yearning stands in for hopes of peace and a more perfect world.

We're used to this kind of holy substitution. After the destruction of the second Temple, the great rabbis of old gave us the institution of the synagogue and fixed prayer in place of ritual sacrifice and, despite all odds, Judaism flourished. That we even exist after the Shoah, let alone have a State of Israel, is a miracle of resilience. But I don't think we can take another loss, another extinguishing of hope, even though we've managed to hold on for a few millennia. There just aren't enough Jews left in the world, and too many people want us dead. I wrote online of despair at my own pessimism, and waited for someone to disagree.


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