Battle of Lamentations

Every society needs those who see what is wrong and fight to make them right. No society is perfect, no country without flaws. But when a community rises to fight tyranny and injustice, the difference between being effective and being street hoodlums rests in the cause that stirs them.

How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces. (Eicha/Lamentations)

I drove through my beautiful city of Jerusalem this early morning on my way to work. No, it isn’t really my city, but I love it so much that sometimes the “my” just slips in. The Bar Ilan intersection looks like a war zone. No, I’ve never been to war, so perhaps it is an unfair description. Perhaps it is enough, despite my initial impression, to say that what I saw today is far from the way it appears on normal mornings.

Jerusalem remembereth in the days of her affliction and of her anguish all her treasures that she had from the days of old. (Eicha/Lamentations)

Today, signs of numerous fires are seen on the road and on the sides; garbage is strewn all around; traffic lights are smashed, some dangling from the light sockets. The red light cover is gone and so a white bulb shows the cars when to stop at one intersection; the traffic light at the junction of Golda Meir and Bar Ilan does not work at all; cars enter haphazardly, driving into and around the garbage.

Jerusalem hath grievously sinned, therefore she is become as one unclean; all that honored her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness; she herself also sigheth, and turneth backward. Her filthiness was in her skirts, she was not mindful of her end; therefore is she come down wonderfully, she hath no comforter. (Eicha/Lamentations)

In a few days, we will sit and mourn for the destruction of our Holy Temple over 2,000 years ago. We will sit on the floors in the synagogues and reach Lamentations (Eicha). These are the words we read – of a time when we abandoned God’s teachings and, in effect, God showed us what it would be like if He ever abandoned us.

‘For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water; They sit upon the ground, and keep silence, the elders of the daughter of Zion; they have cast up dust upon their heads, they have girded themselves with sackcloth. (Eicha/Lamentations)

Most of those who caused this damage have never been to war either; unlike my sons, they won’t defend this land, won’t serve in our army against those who would destroy us.

They do not “recognize” the State, but for the medical services they use, the city buses that transport them to and from their destinations. They pay whatever taxes they must, avoiding many that can be manipulated. The city takes their garbage away, provides lights in the streets they walk at night and the country pays towards their children’s education.

These people who are my people will not lift their hands against our enemies, preferring to find legal loopholes that suggest their prayers are more righteous than those of my sons, that their opening a Gemara or Mishna is of more value than my sons doing the same.

All this, I struggle with as an Orthodox Jew, as a mother who has sent a son to war and stands about to have another join the army. I love them no less than these other mothers and yet I watch as they stop their lives, pick up guns and stand on our borders and I fight within myself to understand why they find it acceptable that my son should serve while their sons do not.

But, last week, almost without warning, this community was stirred to battle, rallied to rise up and fight. They took to the streets of Jerusalem and desecrated them. In their visible black coats and hats they rioted and threw stones and those who are not religious stared in wonder. This was the lesson my religious brethren gave to my secular brothers; this was the war they brought to our streets.

Their battlefield was the city of Jerusalem, their weapons fire, shouting, rocks and masses of garbage strewn on the holy city streets when they returned to their homes. Their targets seem to have been the traffic lights, the garbage cans, the fences that separated traffic, the police, a welfare office, and even sanitation workers who come to make their neighborhoods cleaner.

And their cause? Oh, that righteous of all causes that sent them to the streets? That is what amazes me, surprises me, stuns me. They battle not for an abused child, but for his mother, the woman suspected of starving him until he weighed only 7 kg. at the age of three years. They fight to save a woman, at the expense of the defenseless child because they hate all things related to the State in which they live.

Even the jackals draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones; the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness. The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst; the young children ask bread, and none breaketh it unto them. The hands of women full of compassion have sodden their own children; they were their food in the destruction of the daughter of my people. (Eicha/Lamentations)

The State of Israel is charged with protecting all its citizens, on the borders, and in the streets. It is responsible for the children, most of all, because they are the innocent. Where was the community that now is so up-in-arms over the arrest of this woman? Where were they when this child was denied the basic requirements needed to thrive?

The anger of the LORD hath divided them; He will no more regard them; they respected not the persons of the priests, they were not gracious unto the elders. (Eicha/Lamentations)

Where were the rabbis and organizations who energized a community to take to the streets? And beyond the tragedy of this family, what lasting image will people take with them of a community stirred to defend a sick mother whose child will live today not because of the community but because the State stepped in to save this Haredi child’s life? Our police, our security forces, our doctors.

This woman took her child to the hospital seeking help. The child received medical care and will live. He will live not because Haredi protesters took to the streets and attacked traffic lights; he will live because doctors in all modern countries know the signs of child abuse and are charged to do more than treat the symptoms. All to often, the system doesn’t work correctly and fails the child. This time, whatever happened before the mother brought this child for medical help, at least the child was saved in time.

But the Haredi community picked the wrong fight this time and the shame of that decision, these actions, will live on long after that child is discharged to relatives who should have known better, should have done something.

Our pursuers were swifter than the eagles of the heaven; they chased us upon the mountains, they lay in wait for us in the wilderness. Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwellest in the land of Uz: the cup shall pass over unto thee also; thou shalt be drunken, and shalt make thyself naked. The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion, He will no more carry thee away into captivity. (Eicha/Lamentations)

In the two thousand years since we lost our Holy Temple, the sin of sinat hinam, hatred between brothers would yet still destroy us as it brought battles to the streets of our holy city this past week.

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