When will comfort come? A Reflection on The Ninth of Av

By Rabbi Loren Sykes, Executive Director, The Fuchsberg Center, Jerusalem

אבל מקדש שני, שהיו עוסקין בתורה ובמצות וגמילות חסדים מפני מה חרב? מפני שהיתה בו שנאת חנם- יומא ט ע”ב

But why was the second Temple destroyed when people were busy with Torah study, Mitzvot and Acts of Lovingkindness? Because there was needless hatred. -Babylonian Talmud Yoma 9b

“Nazi Atah!” – “You are a Nazi!” screamed the little boy.

No older than eight or nine, the boy yelled with the hostility of one who lived a full life of persecution.  His eyes burned hot with anger, his face flush with hatred.  Long black curls, payot, trembled with animosity as he continued shouting at the man on the other side of the gate.  This was not a scene from the shtetl in Europe during World War II.  He was not yelling at a German Soldier.  This was last week at the Western Wall, the Kotel, and this child was yelling at another Jew.

What provoked the little boy to yell “Nazi” at another Jew? Here is the story…

I got to the Kotel late for services on Rosh Hodesh Menachem Av, the arrival of the new month of Av.  As is regularly the case, Women of the Wall (WoW) gathered for services.  This time, thousands of young yeshiva girls came out to fill the Kotel Plaza, as they were instructed to do by their rebbeim,  so the group was forced to meet far from the Kotel, behind police barricades.

Arriving at the bottom of the steps leading to the plaza, I stood next to a group of Haredi teenagers to put on my tallit and tefillin.  I was minding my own business when a guy came from out of the “corrall,” got in the face of the Haredim, yelled something unintelligible, and pushed one of the black hat and black-suit clad youths.  A melee ensued around me with ten Haredim pounding on this guy and young kids screaming at him.  To their credit, the police rushed in and broke up the fight, taking away the WoW participant and the Haredi who hit him the most.

As they were led away, I noticed that the guy from WoW dropped his tallis bag.  I picked it up and followed the group to the police holding area.  I approached the gate and asked if the tallis bag belonged to him.  All around me, Haredi teens and children were screaming in Hebrew and Yiddish:

“Reformi – You’re not Jewish!”

“You are a blasphemer!”

“You are a Nazi!”

The last slur drew my attention away from the WoW participant behind the fence and toward the gang behind me.  There, I saw the angry, raging little boy gesticulating wildly at the WoW guy and screaming “Nazi! Nazi Atah!”  All around me, shouts of “Reformi,” “Lo Yehudi” and “Nazi” rose to a crescendo.

I looked at the little kid with the flying black curls and calmly, in my Hebrew Jewish educator voice, asked:

“Who taught you to say such horrible things?”

He stopped shouting and just stared at me, a mixture of curiosity and surprise.

“Really, who taught you to call another Jew something so horrible?”

“Hu lo Yehudi!” – He is not Jewish!” The boy retorted.

“And how do you know that?  Did you check? I said

“If he prays like that, he is Reformi, not Jewish!” He screamed.

Devastated, I wondered what kind of “religious” parent, educator, rebbe would teach a child to label another Jew a Nazi.

What kind of fear led people to inculcate their children with such hatred, labeling another Jew a “Jew-Killer?”  There is no circumstance that could ever justify the gross negligence of parents, of rabbis, of educators who teach children that any Jew who disagrees with them is equal to those who tried to destroy our people. I was even more devastated by the fact that we were celebrating the arrival of the Hebrew month of Av.

We call this month “Menachem Av,”  menachem meaning comfort.  According to tradition, The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed twice  on the 9th of Av(first in 586 b.c.e. and again in 70 c.e.).  During the month,  we pray for a future when the pain of the destruction, the pain of exile, the pain of wandering will be comforted, will be healed.  And why was The Temple destroyed? The Talmud teaches that destruction came because of “Sinat Hinam,” senseless hatred. Now, at the base of our holiest site, the foot of The Temple Mount, The Place, where the Jewish People and God interacted in the most direct way, here I see for the first time what real Sinat Hinam, real senseless hatred looks like:  A little boy, screaming in full fury, “Jew Killer” at another Jew.

“When will the redemption come?” I ask myself.

Not when every Jew observes a few Shabbatot.

Not when we all check our Mezuzot or our Tefillin to be sure that the parchments are “kasher.”

Not when we all behave according to one opinion.

Redemption will come when Jewish educators, parents and rabbis teach their children to live a life of Ahavat Hinam, of generous love toward the entirety of the Jewish People.

Salvation will come when the Jewish tradition of Makhloket, of arguing positions, is done for the Sake of Heaven, with Love and respect and generosity.

Comfort will come when one group of Jews watches another group of Jews pray and sees in that different way one of the seventy faces of Torah.

Deliverance will come when every Jew, child and adult, invests more energy in Ahavat Yisrael, in loving all of the Jewish People, than they invest in being “right.”

Achieving redemption is a big, hairy, audacious goal.

For now, maybe we should begin with the most modest of goals: teaching kids not to scream “Nazi” at those who are different from them.

With unending hope that we see Redemption, Salvation, Comfort, and Deliverance soon and in our day, I wish us all a meaningful fast, a day of reflection and self-assessment, and a day for renewing commitment to achieving complete repair of our world.


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