As a yeshiva student living in the old city of Jerusalem, I hated it. At the end of 2006 the decision was made to rebuild the Hurva Synagogue, the historic place of prayer at the heart of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, destroyed by the Arab Legion during the War of Independence. The six a.m. drilling I awoke to every morning notwithstanding, I struggled to understand the reason for rebuilding. There was still a small synagogue inside the ruins where many still prayed. Additionally, I had always figured that the fact that it was ruins was a large part of its tourist appeal. And come on, 6 a.m.! Construction continued throughout my year and a half in yeshiva and I left seeing little progress in the rebuilding.
This summer I was a councilor for American high school kids spending six weeks in Israel. On the first day we took the kids to the Old City, and as we walked past the now monstrous, lavish, rebuilt Hurva, I quickly mentioned the story of the structure to my campers but lacking much enthusiasm. I still struggled to understand the symbolism of the restoration.
On the Ninth of Av, the day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, we took the campers to one of my co-councilor’s yeshiva in East Jerusalem. From the hill the yeshiva was perched upon you could see the entire Old City. As I pointed out the different familiar icons from this new perspective to the kids, I was momentarily puzzled as I reached the new Hurva. I was not used to seeing a gigantic domed structure in the Jewish Quarter. Suddenly, I was hit with the understanding of the significance of the new Hurva. It dawned upon me, on that day of mourning, that in the aftermath of destruction Jews build.
Often times a society will react to destruction with retaliatory wrecking, such as the 1992 Rodney King Riots in Los Angeles. The Jewish people have always had the opposite impulse. Spiritually staggering in the desert, the Jews built the Tabernacle to bring G-d’s presence closer. From the ashes of the Holocaust, the Jews built up the previously desolate lands of Palestine. Retaliation by building sends a clear and strong message. No matter what you do to us, we are here forever. An establishment is the establishment of the people who built it, in the place they built it.
The four Israelis that were brutally slaughtered in the Hills of Hebron Tuesday lived a life that exhibited this message of eternal existence. They forwent a quiet and safe life to show just how important it was for the Jewish people to establish themselves in every corner of the land G-d gave us. Hamas stands for destruction but history shows that often times the merchants of destruction inevitably becomes its primary recipient. The four holy souls that were cut down in cold blood built their lives in Hebron, in response to all the destruction that has taken place there throughout history. The city is holy and of utmost importance to the Jewish people, and thus, building there is imperative, no matter the risks. It is essential to ensuring that the world know the Jews will be there forever.
Additionally, in response to the shameless slayings, the Yesha Council, the Jewish governing body in the West Bank decreed a de-facto end to the building moratorium, and announced that after the burial of the terror victims, a “construction party” of sorts was to commence. Their response to murder was not bullets and bombs but hammer and nail. They too understood that the best way to honor the fallen was to continue the underlying message of their lives.
The juxtaposition of this phenomenon to the Arabs would be comical if it did not have such terrifying consequences for Israel. The Friday edition of the Los Angeles Times featured a front page story warning that “Jewish and Palestinian extremists make [Hebron] a hot spot that might sink peace talks”. The article then elaborated on who these Jewish and Palestinian extremists are. On the Palestinian side was the acknowledgment that, “Hamas…renewed its campaign of violence this week with two drive-by shootings”. The Jewish extremists were then described as, “Jewish settlers,” that, “demonstrated their contempt…by rolling out bulldozers and cement mixers to resume construction in defiance of Israel’s 10-month moratorium”. Whether or not you agree with building in the settlements and the defiance of the Israel government (which seems like a pastime bestowed upon all Israelis, left, center, or right, at one point or another), it is impossible to miss the drastic discrepancy between the extremism of Hamas violence and the “extremism” of Jewish construction.
Should Bibi Netanyahu walk away from the charade of peace negotiations currently playing out in Washington? Absolutely. These most recent attacks only re-enforce the point that even if one was gullible enough to believe PA President Mahmoud Abbas wanted to stop the murder of Jews in Israel he has absolutely no authority over the increasingly powerful Hamas regime in the West Bank. Additionally, it is clear that United States President Barak Obama has little, if any, faith in these talks. Noticeably, the State Department has taken the reigns as the American representative in the negotiations. This has placed Secretary of State, and Obama’s number one inter-party rival, Hillary Clinton, in the direct spotlight for as long as these talks proceed. With a pivotal November mid-term election upcoming and an even more vital Presidential election looming, if President Obama had even a modicum of hope that these talks would be successful he would never allow for Hillary to lay claim to the credit. The White House’s decision to distance themselves from the talks demonstrates how cynically the Obama Administration views the negotiations. Bibi’s insistence in staying the course with these pseudo-negotiations, while needlessly endangering Israelis, does not endanger the Jewish people however. No matter the damage Bibi, Abbas, or Obama inflicts on Israel, the people will respond with building.
I recently saw a very thought-provoking question in regard to upcoming Rosh Hashanah Holiday, the Jewish New Year and Day of Judgment. It began by observing that most people, when faced with a day of judgment, wear conservative clothing and eat modestly, nervous over the outcome of the judgment. Thus it wondered why on Rosh Hashanah, a day where each and every Jew is judged, do the people wear fancy new clothing and stuff themselves with elegant meals surrounded by friends and family? Shouldn’t they be more concerned?
The answer given was that while as individuals, we worry about our lots for the upcoming year, G-d chose us as his people, and we know, no matter what happens, the Jewish people will be on this earth forever. Thus, while as individuals we may be worried, as a community and as a nation we hold an annual celebration of this eternal decree of existence.
This is the message of the Rosh Hashanah celebration, the message of the Hurva, and the legacy of the four holy souls of the Hebron Hills. The Jewish people will be in their land until the end of time (and beyond). We must never abandon this truth. In recognizing this reality we take the senseless murder of four innocent souls and build something positive from it. We must honor their memory by continuing to build our communities, our families, and our belief that the Jewish people, come hell or high water (or nuclear warheads), will always be established in this world. Forever.