Sunday, August 14, 2005
We Sang on Tisha Bav - A fast of vigils
The great yellow digital clock and thermometer on the skyscraper read 96 degrees. The actual heat was even greater. The burning sun created a patch of daylight inside the wooden barricades like a magnifying glass over an ant and below the tall buildings we looked like ants indeed. We may have looked like ants but we did not feel like ants.
Opposite us, both geographically and politically, the Israeli consulate on the 13th floor showed no visible life as we prayed. We prayed for the soldiers of Tzahal, soon to be misused on the terrible duty of expelling their fellow Jews from their home. We prayed for Medinat Yisrael, the nation whose leader was misguiding and misleading it. We read the prayers of former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu for Gush Katif which had been recited at rallies in Eretz Yisrael.
We recited Tehilim spelling out Gush Katif as to the side a handful of Neturei Karta scowled under a Palestinian flag. They had been barred from every Jewish community and now they waved the flag of the one place in the world they belonged. As we read the words of David HaMelech, they waved banners with the Magen David crossed out. A few girls drowned out the scowling old men with their youthful voices and they retreated behind their police barricades.
Two hours passed in the sun like the patch of shadow that crept along 2nd avenue and on we marched to the UN. In our day the UN represents the widest consensus of anti-semitism. It is the organization that brings together those who despise Jews, those who hate Jews and those who outrightly reject our right to exist as a nation. The green glass of the UN towered glittered and wavery reflections passed over it like a bad dream. We stopped by the Isaiah Wall. The wall that proclaims words of peace which the Soviet Union had refused to allow to be signed with the name of a Jewish prophet.
Year after year, Rabbi Avi Weiss' AMCHA organization has held its annual Tisha Bav prayer rally here. Rabbi Weiss himself has gone far from the Bronx, from protesting against the convent desecrating the Jewish dead at Auschwitz to Gush Katif where he spoke to us over a bad cell phone connection. The words were faint and crackling with static but the hope and determination were as always there. Rabbi Weiss had been beaten by Polish mobs and Pat Buchanan's thugs. Amcha activists been dragged out of Bnai Zion when Arafat was holding a lovefest with the leaders of the major Jewish organizations. Arafat was dead but his legacy lived on and in Ramallah and Jenin and all across the holdings of our enemies; the celebrations at a major Jewish defeat had begun.
In Ralph Bunche Park, named after the ambassador who had helped negotiate the treaty between Israel and the Arab states that founded Israel as a nation, we prepared to pray Mincha for the first time today in Talit and Tefilin. Those who had prayed already and the media stood on the Sharansky steps, named after Soviet Refusnik Natan Sharansky, whose courageous refusal and defiance of those in power had not ended in the USSR, when he defied the government of Ariel Sharon and departed it and his post over the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif. On the wall itself above us were carved the words of the prophet Isaiah, whose words our makeshift outdoor congregation would soon read in the Haftorah. Truly we prayed surrounded by ghosts of the past to inspire us.
Men in everything from black hats and coats to shorts and orange t-shirts drew out of their bags our legacy. Their talit and tefilin. In this week's parsha we read of the commandment of Tefilin. "And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart...and you shall tie them as a sign on your hands and place them over your eyes." After all these thousands of years, in the face of persecution and martyrdom, torture and an assimilationist ethos that is the creed of the UN we stood opposed to, these Jews gathered here kept the sign still. The grim steel obelisk known as 'Peace Form One' soon became covered in talit and tefilin bags and a sea of black and white rose across the plaza. A chorus of blessings were heard and knotted white fringes and black and white stripes flew like the banners of an ancient flag in the growing cool wind from north.
In the counterculture wars of the 60's, a crowd of hippies had surrounded the Pentagon attempting to lift it telepathically into the air. We did not try to the lift the UN, it could not be lifted in any case and was fixed to the dirt it was sunken into. We lifted something far more heavier and more difficult and yet more joyful instead. We lifted a Sefer Torah up and a thousand hands reached out to touch it inside and around the barricades. Inside the fortified UN compound their blue flag, blue for disengagement, flew limply. A large fountain full of cool waters splashed behind black barred gates. But our banners were our taleitim and our water was the water of Torah.
"Nachamu, nachamu ami." Comfort, comfort our people, we sang on Tisha bav, chanting the words opposite the organization that claimed to better the world but only worsened it. Unlike some misguided liberal Jews we did not place our faith or trust in them. We did not put our faith on mortal politicians but on the one above.
"Hashivenu Hashem Eleha Ve'nashuva." Return Us To You Lord and We Shall Return. "Hadesh Yameinu Ki'Kedem." Renew Our Days as in the Beginning.
The UN did not answer our appeal but then of course our appeal was not directed at them. As we finished reciting the kaddish after aleinu, the prayer that proclaims the greatness of G-D, cool raindrops began to fall. We had stood under a burning sun all day and now there was a kind of mercifull relief and an answer to the prayers prayed. We walked back home through a pounding rain of heaven's tears.
For more photos of today's rallies click here