By Rabbi Iris Richman
Exile. Galut. How many of us have truly experienced exile? Does it seem like an old idea? A relic from the dusty past? Some of us, like my husband and millions of other Jews were literally exiled from their homeland in the former Soviet Union in order to live as Jews. Some of us may be grateful for our religious freedom in the US but feel exile and separation from our fellow US Jews as harsh rhetoric and denominational divides threaten to permanently tear us apart. Some of us may enjoy our freedoms in the US but still feel exile from Israel.
But exiled in our Jewish homeland? In Eretz Yisrael? 2000 years ago maybe. But what does that have to do with today, since 1948? This morning, in Jerusalem, we very painfully learned what it has to do with us. With now. Today, until we are all free, today on Rosh Hodesh Av, we are all exiles. Exiles from the Kotel, which ironically is the symbol of our unity in Jewish peoplehood 2000 years ago. Exiles from our yearning to be one Jewish people. Exiles in Israel – even from being a free people. Even – from the freedom to pray.
This morning, Women of the Wall, WOW, were exiled, in Jerusalem, our holy city, from the Kotel, from the chance to pray – allowed only to stand in degradation and disgrace, adjacent to the public bathrooms and try to pray – surrounded by jeering, shouting, whistle-blowing Haredim, throwing eggs to force their exile. Exile shamefully enforced by our own people – the Jerusalem police. And Jewish women? Today we are even exiled from many Jewish women. What of the Women for the Wall – the copycat-named organization started in April when WOW won the legal right to pray at the Kotel, with the purpose of preventing and exiling WOW from the Kotel and prayer? Today, Rosh Hodesh Av, they are jubilant at their success in bringing about the exile of Jews in our homeland. As Rabbi Menachem Creditor wrote: “My broken heart knows / comfort is a long way off”.
Rosh Hodesh, our monthly opportunity to rejoice and sing Hallel, is stained with the bitter ashes of this exile. How can we celebrate? Where are our voices to lift up in prayer and song?
But we are Jews. It is not for nothing that our history is rich with stories of sorrow, exile and redemption. Today, more than ever before, during that dark, tear stained history, the power is in our hands. To wade into the Sea of Reeds, as did Nachshon ben Aminadav — and say – I trust – I believe – that we can enter the waters in Israel, in our holy city of Jerusalem, and we can emerge and make ourselves a free people. It takes some courage to overcome the sorrow and despair of exile. Stand Up for Religious Tolerance. Stand up for WOW. Stand up in the US for Jewish Voices Together. Understand that we cannot any longer let denominational differences divide us. We must come together and cannot allow ourselves to be in exile any longer. Let us put our Jewish Voices Together, lament our exile, take action, emerge together and look ahead to the words of the prophet Isaiah, in the Haftarah that we will soon read when we have passed to the other side of Tisha b’Av, beyond its trauma and crisis:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. …
Ascend a lofty mountain, mevasseret Tzion/herald of joy to Zion.
Raise your voice with power. Mavasseret Yerushalayim/ Herald of joy to Jerusalem
– Raise it – have no fear.
Announce to the cities of Judah: Behold your God. …
Like a shepherd, God pastures [all of] God’s flock.
God gathers the lambs in God’s arms, and carries them in God’s bosom.”
We will be heard, we will be raised up, we will be nourished and we will be delivered from exile.
Today we are all exiles. Soon, we will be one free people.
Kein yehi ratzon – may it be so. Bimheira v’yameinu – speedily and in our days.