Here’s the mausoleum in the old Jewish cemetery in Medzhybizh, Ukraine, of Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the holy Baal Shem Tov, who changed and healed Eastern European Jewry.
The “Besht” appeared in about 1740, a little less than a century after the holocaust of 1648 (Gzeirot Tach-Tat, the decrees of 5408-9), which were followed by the catastrophe of false messiah Shabtai Tzvi, who heaped even more ruin and chagrin on Eastern European Jews, from about 1655 to 1670.
This man of mystery, whose teachings sounded a whole lot like Shabta Tzvi’s, except for the part about trumpeting himself the messiah, has been used as a model by every known Jewish movement, from extreme Haredim to Soviet Socialists, channeled into the world a wondrous spiritual and psychological change, without which we may have looked very different as a nation—and some say we may not have survived at all.
This is a particularly mysterious looking night image, of a relic in a foreign land, long emptied out of most of its Jews, one way or another.
I bless all of us that we’ll have the courage and the wisdom to turn our backs on these relics, including the very beautiful and mysterious ones, face east and start moving.
Next year in Jerusalem (or Netanya, or Haifa, or Tel Aviv – take your pick).