May 2, 2002
Biblical Times in Israel
I recently attended a ceremony for Yom HaZikaron, Israel Memorial Day, at the Orange County Jewish Community Center. Most of the 250 in attendance were Israelis, who, as a group, are more personally connected to the 20,000 Israelis who have died in the many wars for Israel's survival. Community members who had lost family in the 1973 Yom Kippur War lit two candles. Poems and songs brought tears. Yet the most poignant moments were the reading of a set of eulogies in Hebrew and English. A local resident, whose nephew was killed a month ago as a tank commander fighting in Ramallah, provided the eulogies. The parents' words spoken at their son's funeral were poetic and bittersweet, a reminder that each soldier and victim who is killed is the loss of a precious soul.
Although we Jews in Orange County are removed from daily fear, most of us rush out to read the unfolding, painful saga in our daily newspapers. The Los Angeles Times features on the front page pictures of the devastation in the West Bank. The barrage of awful war images surely inflames passions against Israel. I picked up a copy of the widely distributed Orange County Weekly recently. There was a feature article asserting that America, acting as Robert Young in "Father Knows Best," has unfairly sided with one child. Israel, the writer glibly states, engages in acts of murder as it sweeps through Palestinian territory. Moral equivalency, historic ignorance, and yes, even anti-Semitism is growing.
In recent weeks I have begun to reread the Book of Psalms. The 150 poems to God encompass the range of human emotions. Most of the Psalms that are included in our traditional liturgy are upbeat. Yet, there are reoccurring themes in Psalms concerning enemies, hatred and lies. In the past I have read these lines largely as metaphor. Our enemies, our mystical tradition teaches, is the yetzer hara, our internal inclinations toward expediency and evil. Now, I read the lines more literally while aware of how much more resonant the words are for our extended family in Israel. For Israel today, amidst its struggle of survival, these are biblical times.
In reading Psalms, I am reminded of three mysteries: one, that we are a people who still reads texts written over 3,000 years ago; two, that hatred and war persists; and three, that despite our legacy of suffering, we remain a people of hope and compassion. Part of our ability to remain positive in spirit despite unfolding pain is reflected in Psalm 27. I invite you to read it with the awareness of its contemporary feel and relevance:
A Psalm of David.
The Lord is my light and my help.
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life.
Whom shall I dread?
When evildoers draw near to slander me,
When foes threaten, they stumble and fall.
Though armies be arrayed against me,
I will have no fear.
Though wars threaten, I remain
steadfast in my faith...
Abandon me not to the will of my foes.
False witnesses have risen against me,
People who breathe out lies.
Mine is the faith that I shall surely see
The Lord's goodness in the land of
Hope in the Lord and be strong.
Take courage, hope in the Lord.
Elie Kaplan Spitz serves as the spiritual leader of Congregation B'nai Israel in Tustin and is the author of the book "Does the Soul Survive? A Jewish Journey to Belief in Afterlife, Past Lives & Living with Purpose."
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