After spending a year in Israel, I truly discovered where home is. When I went back to visit this past February, despite only being there for a short time, I felt safe, at home and exactly where I belonged. This summer I worked in a camp with a very Religious Zionist perspective. Every day we were reminded about our beloved country. Even more so with the war going on. The atmosphere was permeated with Israel. It stirred up feelings I didn't know I had. I felt myself becoming obsessive with reading the news... trying to find some way to connect to my home, 6,000 miles away and being barraged with rockets and terrorist attacks. You could feel how everyone in the camp was struggling being so far away. We were compelled to do something to show our support, to somehow be connected while being so far away.
Over Shabbos I read "Out of the Depths," the personal memoir of former chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau. It was impossible to put down (except for when I dozed off for my Shabbos nap.)
Rabbi Lau writes about his journey from Buchenwald to Eretz Yisroel. He documented his travels as an immigrant child who could not read or understand Hebrew to his time in Kol Torah Yeshiva to Chief Rabbi of Netanya and Tel Aviv and finally, Chief Rabbi of Israel. His life was bound up in the establishment of the State of Israel. The struggle of the British rule, the Arab attacks from every side and the need to make the world aware of the horrors of the Holocaust. It is a story that is so raw and real, yet at the same time, so pure. It is a story that in some way we all find ourselves joining with the Chief Rabbi in our collective journey home.
There was one passage in particular that stood out to me:
"At time when Israel finds herself at war, people often ask me how I feel from the perspective of a Holocaust survivor. I usually answer, 'Does have have to be a Holocaust survivor in order to understand the situation?' We are besieged, our lives our threatened, and the danger of our destruction has not yet passed. We Jews are still struggling for survival. All Jews are, in a certain sense, Holocause survivors. But for the survivors of that original holocaust, when the siege is tightened, the issue moves to the forefront, taking on an added significance." (Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Out of the Depths, pg. 247)
These days, we all feel the siege. Whether by rocket attacks, rampant anti-Semitism or simply reading the news and being an emphatic Jew and realizing our collective struggle. When one Jew is shot, we all take the bullet. We mourn, we cry. But one thing that unites us all is our ability to move forward. The Holocaust was a time in our history where national morale could have wiped us out even more than Hitler could have. But instead, our homeland was born from the ashes. We take our pain, our resilience, and turn into light.
We turn cement blocks that are meant to stop terrorism and turn them into art.
We take pain and turn it into power.
They bomb us, and we build.
As a people, we are no stranger to tragedy. It something that was embedded into the design of the world. They will hate us no matter what. But instead of allowing that hate to destroy (look at 6000 years of Jewish history!) we continue to grow, to thrive.
For little ol' me, 6000 miles away from home, it is comforting and reassuring to know that I am connected to a nation, to a family, and to a history that will be united into the future.
Am Yisrael Chai.