Friday, July 11, 2014

We Have Been Here Before

 Daniel Gordis

We've been here before. That's the whole point of the Jewish calendar. None of this is new.

We've been before. That's what Shiva Asar Be-Tammuz, the 17th day of Tammuz, which we will commemorate on Tuesday, seeks to remind us. The Mishnah (Ta'anit 4:6) lists five calamities that are said to have befallen us on this date. Among them, the Mishnah says, the walls of the city were breached and an idol was placed in the Temple.

Can anyone doubt that we've been here before?

Thanks to extraordinary Israeli ingenuity, we've built a wall in the sky. Missiles come streaking towards us, and usually, the "wall" stops them; the remnants of what had been a deathly threat seem to float slowly, harmlessly, down towards the earth. But not all the time, as we saw first in Ashdod. Our "wall" can be breached, and one can only assume that the breaches to follow will be much worse than what's come thus far. The Babylonians breached the walls. So, too, did the Romans. So did the Syrians and the Egyptians in October 1973. So did Hezbollah in the Lebanon wars. So, too, can Hamas.

We've been here before.

It wasn't supposed to be this way, the Zionist narrative tells us. The story we tell about this country is one of utter triumph. It's a story the early pioneers with their towers and stockades as they steadfastly spread across the land, of the desert being brought to bloom, of Tel Aviv rising out of the vacant sands just north of Jaffa, that of paratroopers firing their way into the Lions Gate, leaving the centuries-old stone pock-marked with bullets and radioing back, not long later, har ha-bayit be-yadeinu - "The Temple Mount is in our Hands."

But that's never been the entire story. Some of those beachheads established with towers and stockades were over-run. We lost part of Jerusalem in 1948. The Fedayeen crossed the border with impunity during the 1950's and killed many Israelis. The war of 2000-2004 turned our restaurants and nightclubs, bus-stops and cafes into life-consuming infernos. Hezbollah made the northern third of the country uninhabitable. Never, ever have we been able to turn this place into an impregnable fortress.

To live here means to accept that our walls can be breached. To live here means to live with periods of fear, with loss, with the knowledge that as soon as it is over, the clock will start ticking until the next round. That is the way that things have always been, and it is the way that they will always be. Periodically, we or our children, or theirs, will retreat to safe-rooms, reinforced with steel and cement, hear the siren, hear the boom, wait the requisite time and exit, only to do it again down the road.

To live here means trying to make the walls as secure as we can, but knowing that whether they are walls of stone or domes of iron, they will never be impregnable. If we are to live here, it has to be not because we are safe, but because we believe it matters. Thus, if we are to live here, we have to make it matter.

.... .... the continuation of this column can be read on the Times of Israel website at 

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