Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Other Uprooting

Danny Rubinstein in Haaretz reminds us today of the other uprooting. While many Jews today are mourning the evacuation from Gaza, we should remember that:
During the course of the bloody conflicts of recent years, approximately 30,000 inhabitants of the Gaza Strip have been uprooted from their homes. Entire Palestinian neighborhoods along the Philadelphi route in Rafah, at the edges of the Khan Yunis refugee camp, along the route to Netzarim and in the north on the edges of Beit Hanun have been turned into heaps of ruins by the Israel Defense Forces. The reason was an Israeli security need.

Thousands of Palestinian refugees, with only a few days' warning, and in some cases only a few hours, have had to evacuate their homes, which were demolished, and their fields and orchards, which have been razed. In at least two cases that were publicized, an Israeli bulldozer demolished a house with its tenants inside, two old people to whom no one had paid any attention, and they were buried under the ruins.

I reread Eicha (Lamentations) this morning (after hearing it in synagogue last night). One of the clear emphases of the book is that the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile from Judah were not blamed on others - the author or authors of Lamentations place the blame on the people of Israel, figured as the woman Jerusalem.

"Jerusalem has greatly sinned,
Therefore she is become a mockery.
All who admired her despise her,
For they have seen her disgraced;
And she can only sigh
And shrink back."
- Lam. 1:8

God is the author of her sufferings:

"May it never befall you,
All who pass along the road -
Look about and see:
Is there any agony like mine,
Which was dealt out to me
When the Lord afflicted me
On His day of wrath?

From above He sent a fire
Down into my bones.
He spread a net for my feet,
He hurled me backward;
He has left me forlorn,
In constant misery."
- Lam. 1:12-13

"The Lord is in the right,
For I have disobeyed HIm.
Hear, all you peoples,
And behold my agony:
My maidens and my youths
Have gone into captivity!"
- Lam. 1:18

The authors of these beautiful poems of lamentation blamed no one but themselves for their sufferings, but they still hope for reconciliation with God, as the lovely next to last verse of the book says:

"Take us back, O Lord, to Yourself,
And let us come back;
Renew our days as of old!"
- Lam. 5:21

When we finish these words at the end of the reading of Eicha, they always remind me of the great message of the Yamim Noraim (the Days of Awe - Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the days between): teshuvah, turning back to God, repairing our relationships with God and with other people, is always possible, and when we turn back to God, God will turn back to us, as Maimonides says in the Mishneh Torah.
Repentance brings close those who are far away. Yesterday this one was hated before the Omnipresent - filthy, far away, an abomination. Today he is beloved and lovely, close and intimate. And thus you find that with the words that the Holy One sends away the sinners, He brings close those who repent, whether individuals or many people. As it is said, "In the place that it is said to them, 'you are not My people,' it is said to them, 'children of the living God.'"...

Yesterday this one was separated from the Lord, the God of Israel, as it is said, "Your sins separate you from your God." He cries out and is not answered... And today he cleaves to the Shekhinah, as it is said, "And you who cling to the Lord your God are alive here today." He cries out and is immediately answered.

- Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Book of Knowledge, Laws of Repentance 7:6-7 (my translation).

DovBear and the Renegade Rebbetzin have recently both written movingly about the disengagement, teshuvah, and the meaning of exile. DovBear says:
In my eyes, the Gaza withdrawl is an act of Teshuva. The nation and the people are repenting for abiding 30 years of Jim Crow conditions in Yesha; and it is my abiding hope that a "treasure of gold" waits for the nation and the people who complete this process.

And the RenReb says this:
So I've given up. I'm going to let myself cry over the disengagement, that is, assuming I'm able to cry instead of just sit there all frozen. Because it's all about the same thing, isn't it. It's all about the exile, and about how God doesn't speak to us anymore, and how we have to try our best to carry out His will as well as we can interpret it, and about how unimaginably difficult, divisive, and painful that process can be.

Hashiveinu Hashem eilecha v'nashuva, chadesh yamenu k'kedem. (Lam. 5:21, translation above)


  1. Thanks for this post -- especially for your point that so many Palestinians have been forcibly removed from their homes over the years, and for drawing a connection between the happenings of today and the events that eicha cries out in response to.

  2. Amen.

    I didn't know that sentence was from Lamentations (Eicha).