I am tired of hearing, and reading, about antisemitism.
Don’t get me wrong; I know that there are, out there, dangerous people who believe we Jews are the reason why they lead a pitiful life.
But I am tired. I am tired to see how thousands years of Jewish history are forgotten, put among brackets, as if they were a marginal detail in the general picture. As if the Shoah was the most important moment of Jewish history, or perhaps of the world history.
I am tired. Tired of having my own identity defined by our enemies, as if the criminal deeds of a failed amateur German painter, were more relevant than the ethical teachings of the Rabbis, the Prophets, or of the whole Torah.
If only I could call for a moratorium on antisemitism. “Please, please, for one month or two, let’s not talk about antisemitism”. Focus instead on the high moral teachings of our faith, the first religion in history to proclaim that all the human beings are created be’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. Therefore all human beings are worthy of dignity, and respect.
Why, I wonder. Why, why, we hear so many words, we read so many articles in newspapers, which are about the dangers we are currently exposed?
And why we read nothing, or to my mind not enough, about the beauty of Judaism, about the high moral teachings of our spiritual tradition?
I believe everything begun one day of Jewish month of Av, the 9th, Tisha beAv, two thousands years ago, during the Roman siege of Jerusalem. That was when the Temple, the centre of our world, had been destructed and set of fire. So we, the Jewish people, lost our independence and political freedom. That was the beginning of the Exile. That was the turning point in our history.
You see, the point is not being a Diaspora. There are plenty of Diasporas, out there. In the UK there are Chinese, Afro-Caribbean, Poles, Italians… you name it. And the more Capitalism progresses, more people moves from their native home countries, and settle somewhere else (pity for those politicians who want to make themselves a name by opposing the trend of history).
Being part of a Diaspora is nothing strange. Being in exile, that’s different.
If you are in the Diaspora, you have a centre, you have a home, you have a place to return.
While if you are in exile, there is no such a place. Your life has no centre. Precariousness is your permanent condition. Your very existence is at risk, since when things go bad you have no place of refuge, no way to escape. On paper, you may be a citizen. In the political, social reality, you are a guest. Sometimes you are a popular, guest. Other times a very unpopular one. And the landlord can become tired of having you around, can decide he had enough of you, and toss you away.
This is the condition of exile. That is the condition Jews, we Jews have lived until 1948. We were foreigners in foreign lands, for thousands of years, after that fateful destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
This is what we mourn on Tisha beAv, which will be in a few days.
The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the beginning of our exile, of our condition of weak guests, always at mercy of this or that political power; exposed, frail, weak.
A heavy toll had been paid for such a condition. Our history is punctuated by tragedies and massacres. We remember them all on Tisha beAv, either because our weakness, our condition of exiled, had been their ultimate cause. Or because history repeats itself, and so these tragedies have happened in this season
The First Crusade in 1096.
The expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290.
The ethnic cleaning of Jews from France in 1306.
The end of Jewish life in Spain in 1492.
The beginning of World War I in 1914; these unresolved issues ultimately led to World War II and to the Shoah.
The beginning of the mass deportation from Warsaw Ghetto, in 1942.
The bombing of the Jewish Community Centre in Buenos Aires, in 1994.
Even the establishment of the State of Israel did not help in making antisemitism history. Many Zionist thinkers and leaders sincerely believed that the existence of a Jewish State would have transformed not only the Jewish people. The goym, the nations -such was their reasoning- would have come to accept the presence of the Jews among them. Jews would have become just another Diaspora, among many.
They were wrong.
Antisemitism is still there. And I am tired. And I believe many of us are.
Is there no end, we wonder.
Well, I do not know. But there is some hope, as it is taught in our week’s haftarah.
I say: hope. I am not implying that antisemitism is going to disappear any time soon. I know it is a serious matter (whose persistence makes me tired). My reasons for hope are in the last sentence of the haftara reading. This haftara, the prophetic reading, had been selected by the ancient Rabbis for today, Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat before Tisha beAv.
These are the first verses of the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah charges the people of rebellion against God, of hypocrisy, of immoral behaviour.
There is indeed a traditional understanding of our misfortunes: that they happen because God wants to punish the Jews. I cannot accept this reasoning. It implies that Jews are the ultimate and sole cause of their misfortunes.
But as I said, there is something else in our haftara. In its last verses, we read how the Prophet envisions the process of redemption
“I will restore your magistrates as of old,
And your counselors as of yore.
After that you shall be called City of Righteousness, Faithful City.”
The first thing that God wants us to re-establish once we will re-conquer our independence, are: magistrates, and judges. In a word: justice.
God wants justice.
God does not expect us to behave as unrepentant, rebellious children. God wants us to behave as mature persons. God wants us to be just, to be right.
Working for justice is the Jewish way to contrast antisemitism. This is what Isaiah teaches to us, on the eve of the saddest day of the Jewish calendar.
“Zion will be rebuilt in justice, and will be called City of Righteousness”. This is the prophetic vision about Jerusalem. That is the dream we should nurture, the goal we should strive to reach. Justice and Righteousness are the high values that should inspire our life every day.
May the sadness of Tisha beAv open our hearts to hope, to a future of justice.
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