The Jewish state, celebrating 54 years of independence, is very new as far as countries go. The citizens of this new country were supposed to become New Jews. Strong, fearless, independent; quite unlike the old Jews of the Diaspora. New Jews would never have to hide under the bed while enraged mobs stormed the ghetto, eager to spill Jewish blood.
The Jewish state may be new, but the Jewish nation is very old. It's been over 3,300 years since Yocheved hid newborn Moses under the bed. And we're tired. We want our children to play in the park, not hide behind armed guards. "And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets," prophesied Zechariah about Jerusalem.
Is that too much to ask? Is there anything we want more?
"Be strong and brave, my brother," says the new bumper sticker. "Go on with your lives," say our leaders. "Come visit our cities," say the mayors of Jerusalem, Netanya, and Haifa.
Fortunately, the Jewish people are very good at bearing impossible situations; we've had lots of practice.
We are asked to live a normal life in an increasingly impossible situation. Fortunately, the Jewish people are very good at bearing impossible situations; we've had lots of practice. We survived "convert or die" strategies of Islam at its bloody inception and of the Church at the height of the Inquisition. We've outlived every empire on this planet, from the Egyptians to the Romans to the Ottomans.
If Arafat's strategy is to drive us away like Saladin drove away the Crusaders, then he is mistaken both in himself and in us. The Crusaders are gone, their ruined forts are playgrounds for our children. We are still here. To paraphrase Senator Bentsen: we knew Saladin, and, sir, you are no Saladin. We may be tired, but not so tired that we are ready to roll over and die. We shall outlive you, too.
We are not bragging. The eternity of the Jewish people is a commitment we have received in writing, along with our rights to this land. We seem to be reluctant to bring up the Bible in public, as if it were somehow rude to do so. (Ironically, the senator from Oklahoma finds it quite natural.) We are the People of the Book, after all. It is our history, our identity, our destiny.
Yes, the Bible tells us to be strong. But it also teaches something more vital in our circumstances: to scream. "And they cried out to God in their time of need; from their oppression He did save them," say the Psalms. The scream, visceral and bitter, was Mordechai's reaction to Haman's murderous decree, despite his firm belief that "relief and salvation will come to the Jews from somewhere."
And it was the screaming of the Children of Israel that formed the impetus for our redemption: "And the children of Israel sighed, and they cried out... And God said to Moses: I have heard their cry and I know their sorrows, and I am coming down to deliver them out of the hand of Egypt."
What is it about crying out that makes it a prerequisite to deliverance? Isn't forbearance and faith a virtue? If we know that the Jewish people are eternal, and we believe in the promise of a better world, shouldn't we hold back our tears -- and just hope?
As long as we feel that the pain is "them" and not "us," the promise will not apply.
The tears must perforce serve a purpose, must somehow prepare us for the next stage of our destiny, in a way that hope alone does not.
And here is the point: The promise of eternity was made to a nation, not to individuals.
As long as we see ourselves as independent beings who happen to share a country and a culture, the promise will not apply. As long as we feel that the pain of one segment of our people can be tolerated because it is "them" and not "us" who are hurt, the promise will not apply.
Only when the pain is shared, when we see ourselves to be a single living entity, when every loss to our people is felt like the loss of a limb, only then can God's promise to the Jewish people be fulfilled.
As always in times of trouble, the Jewish people asks ourselves what we've done wrong, what we can fix to make ourselves better. This time, too, there have been plenty of suggestions -- gossip, arrogance, lack of modesty.
These suggestions ring hollow, for while we are not prophets, we are the descendents of prophets. And the prophets did not decry sins of individuals, but rather corruption of society as a whole.
Zechariah, when he promises children playing peacefully in the streets of Jerusalem, makes the condition quite clear: "True justice you should judge; kindness and mercy show each man to his brother; widow and orphan, stranger and poor, don't oppress; do not plan evil against your brother in your heart."
Is our society structured as if we were one living entity, where the pain of one member is felt by us all?
Can we look at ourselves and honestly say that our justice system protects everyone equally? Or does it favor those with power and connections? Does it deliver "true justice" and show "kindness and mercy," or is its arbitrariness and lack of accountability a public embarrassment? Is our society structured as if we were one living entity, where the pain of one member is felt by us all?
The answer, to our shame, is no. And if we aren't shaken by the pain of injustice and powerlessness felt by the "stranger and poor," then perhaps we need to feel injustice and powerlessness ourselves. And if we do not hear their cries, then perhaps we need to first cry out ourselves.
So let us scream, aloud, in anger and in pain, where we can all hear, where we can all feel, where all distinctions melt away, where those crying to God merge with those crying at God.
Let us indeed become New Jews: "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from you the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."
May our cries merge together into a single voice that reaches the Heavens.
And may the day come soon when we feel through joy what we now have to feel through pain.