This year, more than the last few years, I feel the pain of Tisha B'Av.
We have watched an unprecedented wave of hatred and antisemitism erupt in this country.
Diners at a Kosher restaurant were attacked and chased in LA.
Joseph Borgen was viciously beaten by protesters at an anti-Israel rally in New York.
In Boston, Rabbi Shlomo Noginski was stabbed eight times. It is a miracle that he survived.
And this barely scratches the surface of the consistent and constant anti-semitic intimidation that has occurred. On campuses, Jewish students are afraid to support Israel. And in many places, Jews are afraid to wear a chai or a Kippah.
And then there was the Hamas campaign and rocket attacks in Israel.
When I visited the Ashkelon a short while ago on a rabbinic mission, I saw a city that was traumatized. For a week and a half, they had lived under siege; a thousand rockets had been launched at their city. They were running to shelters, fleeing the destruction in the streets. In Sderot I saw the building where 5 year old Iddo Avigail was killed by a Hamas rocket (attached is a picture of the building). Iddo was in a safe room, and the metal shutter had been closed. But it seems that the Hamas rockets have gotten more deadly, and this rocket was able to pierce the shutter, and now the entire city of Sderot needs to put in thicker metal shutters. The Abigail family is left to grieve their beloved 5-year-old son who was murdered because he is a Jew.
All of this makes me cry. Yet even within these painful stories there is comfort.
A hundred years ago, Jews were despised because they were weak; they were mocked as pathetic and cowardly. They slandered and called parasites, a people too feeble to exist on their own, and needed to feed off others.
Now we're despised because we're strong. We are despised because We are successful. We are despised because we have the State of Israel, and it is a successful and strong state, a leader among the world.
And that gives me comfort. I'd rather be hated for being strong than hated for being weak.
This is the lesson we need to take with us as we leave the synagogue tonight. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin tells the following story about visiting Israel on a community mission at the end of the Yom Kippur War:
"When I had first begun my career as the rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue, one of the earliest rabbinical functions I attended was a farewell brunch for Rav and Rebbetzin Schwartz, for their impending aliya. Rav Schwartz was a European rabbi living on the West Side, not really a practicing rabbi, but very well known and a Talmud scholar of note. He had lost his entire first family, wife and children, in the Holocaust, remarried in America and now had two sons, a teenager and a pre-bar mitzvah. In 1964, he and his family decided to move to Israel, and because he was so close to all of the rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of the West Side gave the Rav and Rebbetzin a farewell reception. I was a newcomer and I really barely knew them, but nevertheless I attended the brunch. Later we were all shocked and saddened to hear that their eldest son had been killed in the Six Day War. And now, on the plane, on the way to Israel toward the end of the Yom Kippur War, I saw that their second son, their only remaining son, had been killed in action as well. I knew that I had to pay a condolence call…. The Schwartzes lived at 8 Shimoni Street in a small apartment, and there must have been close to a hundred people who had come to try to console them. The Rav and Rebbetzin, who looked much, much older than I remembered them, were sitting on cushions on the floor. Everyone else was standing. The room was heavy with the press of the people and with an ominous and shrieking silence, a silence that seemed to scream out to the very heavens. Jewish law dictates that when you pay a condolence call, the visitor is not supposed to speak first; the mourner is. The visitor must listen to what the mourner has to say and respond to whatever that happens to be. And if the mourners choose not to speak, then no one speaks. The Rav and his wife were sitting and not speaking, so no one was speaking. I stood in the back of the room for about twenty minutes. I didn’t even know if Rav Schwartz remembered me at all. Since I felt a responsibility for the group waiting for me back at the hotel, I began to leave, and, as I did so, I walked past Rav and Rebbetzin Schwartz, saying what one always says when one leaves a house of mourning: “HaMakom yenachem etchem betoch she’ar avelei Tziyon vee’rushalayim. May the Almighty comfort you among the rest of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” Rav Schwartz looked up at me. “Rav Riskin, yes?” “Yes,” I replied. “Rav Riskin,” he said, “why is the subject of the prayer that you express to a mourner, ‘HaMakom?’ ‘HaMakom’ means place. Yes, in this context it’s a synonym for God, because the whole world is God’s place. But wouldn’t it have made more sense for consolers to say ‘HaShem yenachem etchem, ‘May the God of compassion comfort you,’ or ‘May Elokim, the God of creation comfort you.’ Why use ‘HaMakom?’ the Place? “I’ll tell you why,” he continued, “I understand it now for the first time. When my family was destroyed in the Holocaust, there was no comforting me; it was so senseless, so absurd. But now that I have lost my only remaining sons and have no chance for other children, I am sad, sad beyond even the ability to speak, but I am comforted nevertheless. At least this time my sons died so that the Jewish people could live. They died in defence of Israel. They died in defence of Yerushalayim. They died in defence of the Jewish future. ‘HaMakom’, the place: Jerusalem, Israel, the Jewish State. HaMakom menachem oti, the place comforts me among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
Tonight we cry for all those who have lost so much because they were Jews, because they wanted a better future for the Jews. We cry for the Schwartz boys. We cry for Iddo Avigail. We cry for those huddled in shelters, for those who are getting attacked in the streets.
But what gives us comfort? That place, a place that our great-grandparents could barely dream of. It gets us enormous comfort to know that now, Jewish destiny is in our hands.
המקום ינחם אותנו בתוך שאר אבילי ציון וירושלים.
May the Lord comfort us together with all who born for Zion and Jerusalem.