These last two weeks which began with Faigy Mayer’s suicide, continued with the stabbings (and murder of a sixteen year old girl, Shira Banki) at the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade, and ended with the firebombing and murder of a Palestinian toddler, Ali Dawabsha (possibly by extreme religious Zionists, though no one has been charged with the crime yet) have been a very rough stretch for the Orthodox Jewish community. The cause of these tragedies and how they do (or do not) tie into larger problems in the Orthodox Jewish world have been the subject of heated debate.
Do some ex-Chasidim get pushed to suicide, in part because of the alienation they feel after leaving their community of origin or did the media and anti-Orthodox crowd blame the religious community too much for Mayer’s death when the real cause was much more complicated? Was the man at the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade aided and abetted, in part, because some Orthodox Jews have taken the Biblical prohibition of homosexual sex and turned it into a homophobia which fuels extremism or did the media and anti-Orthodox crowd jump too quickly to call the man at the parade “Charedi” when tons of Charedi leaders spoke out against his actions and no one actually supports what he did? Does extreme Zionism lead to acts of violence and murder or are most religious Zionists passionate about the land of Israel but would never actually hurt anyone?
Being the extreme moderate that I am, I find myself hearing both sides of every argument. Being the religious Jew that I am, I wonder if there is something we can learn, some way for us to grow, so that these terrible, terrible deaths did not happen in vain. Of course I noticed that this stretch of sadness began in the days leading up to the Jewish national day of calamity – Tisha B’Av (which marks millennia of exile brought on by senseless hatred) and ended on the eve of Shabbos Nachamu – the Sabbath of comfort. Shabbos Nachamu sets off “seven weeks of comfort” – the seven haftarahs of comfort which are read in shul on Shabbos for the seven weeks after Tisha B’Av and end in time for Rosh Hashanna, as finding comfort from deep pain does not happen in an instant.
What grain of comfort could one possibly find in the wake of such tremendous grief? The first moment I began to feel a ray of hope was when I saw an image (pictured above) of the chief rabbi of Jerusalem visiting the victims of the Gay Pride stabbings – two men from different ideologies, maybe even “warring camps,” holding hands in peace and friendship. Next, a Facebook group popped up where formerly observant Jews and currently religious Jews came together so they could start spending Shabbos with one another and lessen the divide. Finally, I saw a picture of a religious Zionist rabbi and an imam from Duma embracing after the terror attack.
As I tried to figure out how these feelings connected to nechama (comfort), I started combing through dictionaries and concordances to understand if there was a deeper meaning to “nechama” and was pleased to discover that a secondary meaning of the word is “reconsidering” or “regret.” It all seemed to come together – extreme acts showed both sides that vitriol and hatred of “the other” is a dangerous road to even begin to walk down and that we must focus on the many, many threads of commonality that we share.
On Shabbos Nachamu we read the words of the prophet Isiah “Nachamu nachamu, ami” (“Comfort, comfort, my nation”), but there’s another section of Isiah later on in this book, perhaps even more famous, which describes the Utopian times (y’mos hamoshiach) which were prophesied thousands of years ago to come one day. People incorrectly say that “the lion will lay down with the lamb,” but Isiah actually says “the wolf will dwell with the lamb.” With different parties reaching across the aisle in all these different spheres, in the wake of these tragedies, perhaps our comfort is closer than we realized.