Our Sages teach, “There is no comparison between hearing and seeing.” To be in Eretz Yisrael is not only to pray at the holy sites or go touring, but to be in Eretz Yisrael also demands that we express solidarity with our beleaguered brethren, and demonstrate our support so that they may know that we are with them.
As many of you may know, our Hineni organization has a very active Israeli branch. In addition to the many educational Torah programs that we offer, we also run a soup kitchen for the indigent and an outreach program for victims of terror. When our Israeli brethren are confronted by danger our dedicated, tireless director, Benjamin Philip, and his eishes chayil Nechamah, is always first on the scene.
During Operation Cast Iron in Lebanon, when our people in the North were subjected to constant barrages of rockets, Hineni brought hundreds of families to safety in Jerusalem. We provided them with food and shelter as well as spiritual nourishment – Torah programs for adults and children. The same was done during every crisis.
Whether the victims of terror were injured by rockets in the North, wounded by suicide bombers on the streets of Jerusalem and its environs, or assailed by rockets in Sderot, we brought them to our Hineni Center in Jerusalem so that they might have some relief. We were shocked to discover that for many of them, these visits provided their first encounter with the Kotel. As inconceivable as it may be, there are people in Israel who have never experienced the awesome sanctity of the Wall.
In addition to these Jerusalem visits, we also take these young victims of terror on visits to European Jewish communities where the local congregations host them. These trips invigorate them with strength and pride. The respect and love with which the host Jewish community welcomes them imbues them with a sense of purpose.
Suddenly, the senseless madness of their suffering takes on a new dimension. They are not just pitiful, wounded victims of terror, but heroes of Eretz Yisrael who are creating history, pioneers in their G-d-given land. It was in this spirit that our Hineni group made its way to Sderot.
We marveled at the courage of our brethren, who despite deadly barrages have remained steadfast and would not abandon the land. Even without these murderous attacks, living in outposts like Sderot requires dedication and sacrifice. But we are a nation that has survived the centuries against all odds, which has endured and triumphed over the most monstrous evil and persecution.
Now that, after 2,000 years of suffering, G-d has granted us the miracle of return to our ancient land, no force or rockets could make our people forsake it. From Sderot, we saw Gaza, literally a stone’s throw away, and which, despite its close proximity, our Israeli Government handed over to the Arabs only to see it converted into a launching pad for lethal weapons. We saw the houses that had been hit; the destruction that had been wrought, but most painful of all was to hear personal testimonies of the young people. We wept as they shared their ordeals.
We were humbled by their expressions of gratitude for our having made it possible for them to walk the streets of Jerusalem and other cities without hearing the ominous warning siren of “Tzeva adom – Red alert!” …Rockets coming … Run for the shelters.
One young woman related that she was walking with her madrichah when the ominous siren sounded. There was no place nearby to find safety and her madrichah was blown to bits before her very eyes while she sustained terrible injuries. Another girl told us that she saw her sister killed, and her mother, who was expecting a baby, suffered a miscarriage. And the tragic stories went on and on. It is not only the physical injuries that these people have sustained, but the mental anguish that has left them scarred and traumatized. We couldn’t help but wonder how they were able to go on.
As I write these words, we are in middle of the Nine Days, the saddest period of the year. So the question remains – how do they go on? But I guess that I can ask the same question of myself. How did we go on after the Holocaust? How did we rebuild after that satanic evil that no nation had ever experienced?
In my mind’s eye I see my saintly father…. I hear his voice as he tearfully charged us – “Mein teirer kinderlach – My dearest children…. we will rebuild the Torah of our fathers and mothers.”
My father uttered those words in a displaced persons camp to which we were taken after Bergen-Belsen. He charged us with that mission after he discovered that his entire family had perished and he was the lone son to survive the noble rabbinic house of his holy father, HaRav HaGaon Yisroel Halevi Jungreis, Hy”d.
Where did my father find the strength? This is the miracle of our Jewish people. The voice of G-d that we heard at Sinai kindled an eternal light in our souls. No matter where life may take us, no matter how much anguish we are subjected to, that Divine light will never be extinguished. It will always show us the way.
Tisha B’Av is the most tragic day on the Jewish calendar, but it is also the day on which Moshiach is born. The dirge that we sing on this day of sorrow is “Eli Tzion – Weep for Zion and her cities as you would weep for a woman in labor,” for even in the midst of her unbearable pain, she knows that very soon, she will behold new life and all her suffering will all have been worthwhile.
Indeed, we the Jewish people have never lost sight of that vision. We have never forgotten that even as the Temple was destroyed on Tisha B’Av, Moshiach was also born on that day, and soon, very soon, with the help of G-d, we will see our Temple rebuilt.