Frozen Tu B'Av

Unfreezing Our Hearts – Reflections on Tu B’Av in COVID-19 Times

“Frozen” is my youngest daughter’s favorite Disney movie, so I have seen it a few times and even remember many lines by heart! Here is the essence of the story for whoever has missed out. Princess Anna falls in love with Prince Hans, and from their first date she knows she wants to marry him. Her sister Elsa is very angry with her, refusing to accept the idea of love at first sight, so she runs away and freezes the world. Anna goes searching for Elsa with  a simple rural guy named Christoph. During their journey, Anna’s heart freezes. In order to save her, they must find someone who truly loves her, as only true love will thaw her heart. Christoph, who secretly loves Anna, does his best to bring her to Prince Hans, but he refuses to help. Olaf, the wise snowman, tells Anna a very important secret: “Love is putting someone else’s needs before your own. Christoph was willing to sacrifice everything to bring you to Hans and therefore only he truly loves you!”

Why am I sharing this? Tu B’Av is coming up (August 5 this year) and in some Jewish circles this day has become an imitation of Valentine’s Day – a day that focuses on the superficial aspects of love and romanticizes the idea of love at first sight. This perception is based of the following description of the Mishnah: There were no days of joy in Israel greater than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur. On these days, the daughters of Jerusalem…came out to dance in the vineyards. What would they say? Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself.” (Ta’anit 4:8)

However, when reading the entire text of the Mishnah more carefully, a different kind of love story would be found: “On these days, the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white garments in order not to embarrass anyone who had nothing.” Our clothes are our most personal items of self-expression, and on Tu B’Av every bride-to-be was willing to wear a simple dress so as not to embarrass her friends who did not have beautiful outfits to wear. As Olaf taught us, true love is putting someone else’s needs before your own.

On Tu B’Av and on Yom Kippur, the girls wore white dresses and not colorful clothing. White symbolizes simplicity and purity. These were not days for “showing off” but rather times for authenticity, for showing our true colors, with no judgment or competition – only empathy and compassion. That is why Tu B’Av, should be the happiest day of the year and a festival of true and authentic love.

We are taught that our Temple was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam – baseless hatred – and that in order to rebuild our nation, we must increase Ahavat Chinam – true and unconditional love. This means developing authentic love for one another, based on our ability to recognize  and prioritize the needs of others. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many of us –  as individuals, families, communities and Jewish institutions – unprecedented financial challenges. Many have lost their jobs, businesses are suffering, philanthropists are reducing their donations, and Jewish institutions find themselves in dire straits. Many families are struggling to keep their children in Jewish education frameworks. We need to prepare for a new reality for the coming few years. We need to create support systems in our communities to ensure that we do not “embarrass anyone who has nothing”, so that anyone who wishes to keep their children in Jewish education and maintain their membership of their community and other Jewish institutions will be able to do so, regardless of their financial status. Now is the time to practice Ahavat Chinam literally; it’s time to love other people unconditionally and include each and every family in our communities and our schools, even if they don’t have the money to pay (chinam). 

Tu B’Av, the festival of true love, is the day on which we can start to repair our past errors, by sowing the seeds of Ahavat Chinam that will ultimately bring the rebuilding of our nation, as Rav Kook wrote so beautifully:

“If we were destroyed, and the world was destroyed with us, on account of gratuitous hatred, then we will be rebuilt, and the world with us, through gratuitous love.” (Orot HaKodesh 3, p. 324) 

On Tu B’Av and Ahavat Chinam

Tu B’Av is colloquially known as the Festival of Love.  It was one of the two best days of the year, along with Yom Kippur:

Rabban Shimon son of Gamliel said: “Israel did not have better days than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, when the maidens of Jerusalem would go out wearing borrowed white clothes, so as not to embarrass those who did not have them.

And the maidens of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards. And what did they say? “Young man, look and observe well whom you are about to choose. Do not dwell on the beauty, dwell on the family”.

(Mishnah Ta’anit, 4:8)

What is Tu B’Av all about, and why is it compared with Yom Kippur? Our Rabbis give six reasons for the special events that took place on the fifteenth of Av, among which were:

  • The day on which the tribes were allowed to intermarry” – When the Bnei Israel came to Eretz Israel, intertribal marriage was forbidden to prevent land being passed on from one tribe to another in cases where daughters inherited from their fathers. This decree was abolished at the time of the Judges on the 15th of Av.
  • The day on which the tribe of Benjamin was allowed to return to the congregation” – After the terrible disaster known as Pilegesh BeGiva – the concubine on the hill – there was a war between the various tribes of Israel in which 70,000 men were killed. Benjamin was the tribe responsible for this conflict, and the elders of the congregation declared that no other tribe must marry its men. This decree was also revoked on the 15th of Av.
  • The day on which Hosea son of Ella dismissed the guards, appointed by Jeroboam son of Nebat, to guard the roads and prevent the Israelites from making pilgrimages, and said that whoever wishes to make a pilgrimage may do so” – After the kingdom was split into Israel and Judea, King Jeroboam placed army guards on the roads to Judea to ensure that his subjects do not make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. King Hosea son of Ella abolished this law and permitted all to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem once more.

The joy associated with Tu B’Av stems from the empowerment of equality as a value, as the Mishnah states: “For on them the maidens of Jerusalem would go out wearing borrowed white clothes, so as not to embarrass those who did not have them.” On that day, the social strata were ignored. No one took pride in what she owned, and no one was ashamed of what she didn’t have. Even the elite daughters of society removed their beautiful garments and wore borrowed clothes. This key event on Tu B’Av was held in the vineyards with everyone mingling with one another, without condescension or alienation. It was a huge display of love, in which members of every sector participated.

That was also the reason behind the dance. It was performed in a circle, where no classes or strata can be discerned. Every point in the circle is equally far from the center, and thus Tu B’Av was in fact a Jewish celebration of social equality.

Moreover, the decrees annulled on that day were associated with reconnecting the various parts of society to one another: tribes were allowed to intermarry, Benjamin was allowed back into the congregation and the Israelites were allowed to return to the unifying  city of Jerusalem: “The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that is united together.” (Tehilim 122); “Said Rabbi Yehushua Ben Levi: A city that makes all Israel chaverim (friends).”  (Jerusalem Talmud, Hagigah 2:6).

The Beit HaMikdash was destroyed on 9th Av because of baseless hatred, and in that sense Tu B’Av, celebrated 6 days later, is the day of atonement and rebuilding. just as Yom HaKipurim. It is a day of Ahavat Chinam, unqualified and unconditional love, which is the very foundation for the rebuilding of Beit Hamikdash, as Rav Kook says:

“If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love — Ahavat Chinam. (Orot HaKodesh vol. III, p. 324)

We have been practicing social distancing for months, because it has proven to be the most effective way to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the pandemic of Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) from which we have been suffering for thousands of years should be battled with the exact opposite weapon – social closeness. By this I mean not physical closeness but rather emotional closeness, despite all of our disputes and disagreements. Social closeness is the spiritual essence of Tu B’Av and the reason that it should be the happiest days of the year.

Happy Festival of Love and Unity!

Changing the Culture of Dispute

Recently, our society has experienced growing levels of divisiveness and hatred. Public discourse has become very disrespectful and often violent, filled with contempt and incitement. Many people have lost the patience to listen and tend to attack anyone who disagrees with their views. Social media fights can transform an ideological argument into a bitter and personal war over people’s political differences.

The enormous levels of stress, pressure, anxiety and insecurity that many have experienced since the outbreak of COVID-19 have brought our society to new heights of hatred and divisiveness. Emotions are being channeled into anger, riots and violent demonstrations.

The days of mourning at the beginning of the month of Av are intended not just to remember the past but also to learn from our mistakes and try to fix them. According to our Sages, the destruction of the Second Temple that caused our nation’s 2000-year exile was an outcome of irrational baseless hatred – Sinat Chinam.

The remedy for the whole of society must begin with our personal actions, so I wish to suggest a road map to conduct what our Sages define as ‘machloket le’shem shamayim’ (dispute for the sake of Heaven). If we can implement these principles in every conversation, argument and conflict in our lives, between families and friends, in the workplace and in the political arena, and especially on social media, it will bring our society to a much healthier place. These principles are discussed at length in my new book “The Narrow Halakhic Bridge.”

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (5:17) teaches us the following: “Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will ultimately endure, and one that is not for the sake of Heaven will ultimately not endure.”

Usually, in any dispute, each side claims that their intentions are “for the sake of Heaven,” so how can one determine whose argument is for the sake of Heaven and who is destructive and dangerous?  What are the determining factors? Does it depend on the opinions of the disputants?  The topic of the dispute? Why is it expressed as a good thing that such a dispute will endure? Surely we do not want disputes to endure, but rather to be peacefully resolved!

I wish to suggest three central criteria that allow us to distinguish between constructive and destructive conflicts.

 (a)   The purpose of the dispute.

The purpose of the dispute must be to clarify the truth, even if this means admitting to one’s own error. If the disputants’ purpose is to win at all costs, the dispute becomes entangled with their personal interests, because each side wants to prove that they are superior and correct. If, however, the disputants’ purpose is to clarify the truth, then it doesn’t matter which of us is correct, because our goal is to reach the truth. The Chatam Sofer explains this idea:

“The intention of the disputants should not be . . . to convince the other of his opinion, for what do I care if he agrees with me or not? Rather, the debate should be in order to establish my opinion based on my understanding. By way of what my friend claims against me, I will see if what he claims is correct and I will retract my opinion, yet if I am not convinced, I will maintain my opinion…But those who want their fellow to agree to them and [hence] their intention is to convince them, stray from the path of truth toward rhetoric, and thus, the conclusion becomes warped.” (Responsa Chatam Sofer, Orach Chayim 208) 

One who argues only in order to sway their opponent is so convinced that they know the truth that they are unable to hear any criticism and to discern where they may have gone wrong.

(b)   The manner of the dispute.

In an argument for the sake of Heaven, each party displays respect for their opponent. This does not need to diminish the argument’s intensity; indeed, each side needs to defend their own opinion and fight valiantly for it. However, this must be done respectfully, based on the belief and understanding that the intentions and motivations of one’s opponent are also pure. Accusing the other side of having a hidden agenda and of intentionally skewing evidence in their favor, strays beyond the bounds of a dispute for the sake of Heaven. Personal, ad hominem attacks and accusations are a clear violation of the standards of legitimate debate. Rabbi Kook, who himself was the target of many personal attacks for his courageous leadership, offers the proper framing:

“Every argument between a person and their fellow, or between one group and another, also builds worlds, and since it is all part of improvement and building there is no reason to speak bitterly, but only to announce the magnitude of what each side is doing, that together they are building an eternal structure and repairing the world. Then, in accordance with the broadening of this understanding [that every argument builds the world], love will increase in proportion with the increase of hatred, and the bond will increase in proportion with the magnitude of the separation.”(Orot Yisrael 4:6)

If our goal is to entirely separate ideological arguments from personal disputes, and if we can judge each person favorably while disagreeing with the greatest intensity, then we are on the right path. Anger, accusations, resentment, vitriol – all of these factors turn the heat of a debate into a “foreign fire,” even among the holiest and most ideological people.

(c)   The relationship between the disputants.

While civil, respectful discourse is important, it truly is not sufficient. The most profound indication of a true dispute for the sake of Heaven is when the two parties are not only respectful to one another, but can also maintain a friendly relationship despite the intensity of their argument. Rabbi Yonatan Eybeschutz, who himself suffered from false accusations made against him, explains the Mishnah in that vein:

“This is how one can know: if the parties who are arguing, aside from the matter they are disputing, love each other completely, with heart and soul, this is a sign that their argument is for the sake of Heaven. But if they are enemies and harbor hatred toward one another because of their dispute, this is not for the sake of Heaven and Satan stands there amongst them.” (Ye’arot Devash 2:8)

Changing the Culture

The only way to truly engage in a dispute for the sake of Heaven is if every party strives to find the truth in their opponent’s position, based on the understanding that they do not have a monopoly on truth. The secret to true unity lies in the understanding that there is room for a variety of different opinions. While we can and must disagree passionately, it is forbidden to denigrate or demonize other people. One may attack their opposing position, but it is forbidden to attack them in a personal way. There is no need to fear dissenting opinions. Just the opposite: one should understand that debate allows each side to strengthen and sharpen their position and world view.

Dispute that is truly for the sake of Heaven is a respectful argument within a context of mutual respect, love and appreciation for the importance of every opinion. This can build bridges between individuals and groups, and hopefully, re-establish that which we long ago destroyed through Sinat Chinam – baseless hatred.

If Not Now, When?

COVID-19, this tiny virus that has become the joint enemy of all of humanity, should bring some proportion to our lives. It should inspire us all to let go of divisive arguments, and to realize how much we are all dependent on each other. The global crisis is not ending anytime soon, and we are still very far away from getting back to our normal routines. That is why, as we approach Tisha B’Av, it is imperative to pay attention to these lessons. Together we can pave the path to forming a better society, with more compassion, empathy and mutual respect, despite the different opinions which we will obviously retain.

We have been practicing social distancing for months, since it has proven to be the most effective way to battle the pandemic. Yet, the pandemic of Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) from which we have been suffering for thousands of years should be battled with the exact opposite weapon – social closeness, not physical closeness rather emotional closeness despite all disputes and disagreements as Rav Kook beautifully writes:

“If we were destroyed, and the world was destroyed with us, on account of gratuitous hatred, then we will be rebuilt, and the world with us, through gratuitous love.” (Orot HaKodesh 3, p. 324)

political correctness

Gone with the Winds of Political Correctness

The world is being washed over by waves of political correctness amid protests over the brutal death of George Floyd. Classical movies such as “Gone with the Wind” are being pulled from a film library and using the word “women” instead of “people who menstruate” has become controversial and illegitimate.

Discrimination is always wrong, and oppression is a terrible crime. Unfortunately, discrimination still exists in our society, and racism did not disappear from the world. Sensitivity, empathy, and compassion toward victimized minorities are essential. However, excessive and perhaps obsessive political correctness is not the remedy for any discrimination.

In my new book, The Narrow Halakhic Bridge: A Vision of Jewish Law in the Post-Modern Age, I deal at length with the dangers of erasing the differences between people. Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook addressed this challenge in one of his famous homilies on the blessing “Blessed is He Who discerns secrets”, which is recited when seeing a gathering of 600,000 Jews. The Gemara says:

One who sees a crowd of Jews says, ‘Blessed is He Who discerns secrets,’ for their minds are unlike each other and their faces are unlike each other.” (Berakhot 58b)

Rav Kook explains that people have different attributes and opinions, a diversity which is the result of both their inborn nature and the influence of their environment. These traits also affect a person’s outward appearance, color, and face. Every person contains the secret of their creation – their role and mission in the world. G-d, the “Knower of Secrets”, has a divine purpose for all of the various opinions and disputes that circulate the world. Because of the differences between people, everyone will ultimately unite toward one goal and create a single, harmonious picture together, through every individual contributing their own unique gifts and talents. The remarkable constitution of humankind requires the existence of differences, for without it no one would be able to discover their unique qualities, and thus no one would fulfill their unique mission.

Rav Kook wrote:

“And if people would know of their inner congruence, each person would not pull toward their [specific] group and individuality would disappear, and there would be no material to build the community.” (Olat Re’ayah, 1:389)

If people thought they were the same, they would not struggle to prove their uniqueness, and the world would not develop as it should. Disparities between groups create a dynamic that catalyzes the world’s progress, as the Talmudic Sages said: “Authors’ jealousy increases wisdom.” (Bava Batra 21a). When everyone is forced to think in the same way, and when it becomes illegitimate to use words which express divergence, individuality is erased, ambition is squashed, progress ceases, and society stagnates. As Rav Kook’s says:

“If one’s opinions were as close to the understandings of his fellow as he feels close to himself, his attachment to his own uniqueness would weaken, causing the perfection of his own uniqueness to be deficient, which would result in a deficiency of the entire community.” (Ibid.)

A homogenous society will shrivel up. Only a multiplicity of opinions leads to healthy competition and mutual enrichment. If striving for tolerance and peace between individuals is achieved by erasing differences, we will damage humanity’s composition and the world’s progress. World peace is a unity that does not stem from uniformity, but rather from a peaceful and constructive diversity.

An example of how to achieve that peace and harmony could be learned from the peacemaker of our tradition, Aharon HaKohen, who “loved peace and pursued peace, loved all people and brought them closer to Torah.” Parshat Beha’alotcha begins with the commandment to Aharon to light the Menorah. According to Rashi’s famous commentary, Aharon is being praised for precisely following the commandment of G-d: “And Aharon did so; This is stated to tell the praise of Aaron — that he did not deviate.” Why should Aharon be praised for not deviating?

According to Rav Kook, this symbolizes his unique trait of peace-making:

The various lights (of the Menorah) seem to be separate, and indeed they must be distinct so that the uniqueness of each of them would be noticeable…And sometimes distinctions result in disputes and arguments…Nevertheless, the more each of the lights struggles to highlight its unique traits, the more perfection it brings to the world” (Olat Re’ayah, 1: 435)

The lights of the Menorah symbolize the differences between people who shine in certain lights and colors. Aharon’s role was to elevate these lights, i.e., to nurture the differences between people and to embrace their uniqueness. And yet, Aharon managed to unite all these lights to point toward the central-western light. This is why Aharon is praised for managing to facilitate peace and harmony without “deviating”, i.e. without changing their personalities and without declining their differences.

It is quite easy to attain peace by demanding “one size for all” and by forcing people to erase all differences, but that harmony is not sustainable and might cause more damage and bring about more violence. Being politically correct is not necessarily correct, and we must not go from one extreme to the other, but rather find the Golden Mean by following in the ways of Aharon HaKohen.

Pretending that something never happened in the past will not help us learn to live with it, to recognize the mistakes in our past, and to prevent similar mistakes in the future. We must find ways to fix our society, but without erasing our differences.

coming home to Israel

It’s Time to Consider Coming Home to Israel

An abridged version of this article appeared here on JTA on June 1, 2020

On Purim this year, I was celebrating with friends in Boro Park. The streets were filled with people wearing costumes and Purim masks, celebrating and rejoicing. No one had the slightest clue that N-95 masks would soon take the place of Purim masks, and that instead of celebrating together, the community would start to face a horrific daily death toll.

For weeks, I have been following the news in Israel and in America and comparing the collective responses. I had planned to stay in New York until Pesach and then to return to New York in May to launch my new book, “The Narrow Halakhic Bridge”. But the day after Purim, I felt that a big catastrophe was imminent and decided to return home on the first available flight back to Israel.

It wasn’t a prophecy to recognize that Israel would be a much safer place, observing the differences between the decisive leadership of the Israeli government issuing clear and consistent messages and the confusing messages which came out of the White House, issuing conflicting statements, seeking who to blame instead of taking responsibility and often issuing puzzling statements, such as using bleach or disinfectants. While Israel was already closing its skies and requiring two-week quarantine for anyone entering the county, flights from Italy and France were still landing in America. Israelis quickly started practicing social distancing, while in New York people were freely using public transportation and everything was still open.

Returning to Israel, I found it quite shocking to encounter a cultural shift. Normally, compliance with rules is counter-intuitive to Israeli culture. Often, rules are seen as recommendations! By contrast, American culture is usually characterized by obedience and discipline. But I discovered that things had flipped. The vast majority of Israelis were strictly following the guidelines and restrictions, while American society was still way behind.

Israel’s ability to overcome COVID-19 in a relatively effective way was mainly due to civil obedience, perhaps because Israelis are used to coping with emergency situations. But I believe there is also something deeper going on here. ‘Kol Israel arevin zeh la’zeh’ means that ‘All Jews are responsible for one another’. The level of solidarity and mutual responsibility shown in Israel has reached new heights. Young people, who did not consider themselves at risk, fully obeyed the rules and wore masks in order to protect the elderly. Many of them volunteered to deliver food to those who were stuck at home. Although the Haredi community woke up to the virus late and suffered the highest concentration of infections, most have been cooperating with the authorities and we have seen unprecedented cooperation of non-religious soldiers working together with the Haredi community in Bnei Brak in love and harmony. This is in sharp contrast to the experience of some Haredi communities in America, who have felt abandoned or betrayed by the authorities. There was indeed a strong sense and display of solidarity within the American Jewish community, however, that was not the overall experience of the general American society. A demonstration against wearing masks or social distancing would have been inconceivable in Israel where, in times of crisis, popular solidarity usually wins over individualism.

However, this unique solidarity and sense of collective responsibility should have gone beyond Israel’s borders. Tragically, current estimations show that the Jewish community in America has suffered more than 1,000 casualties, and other Jewish communities around the world have also been badly affected. It is clear that Israel has not done enough for world Jewry. Most Israelis are not aware of the scale of the catastrophe that European and American Jews have been facing. I personally think that, especially during this time of crisis, the borders of Israel should have been opened to any Jew wishing to find a temporary shelter here, as promised in Israel’s Declaration of Independence: “The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles”.

There is also a fundamental lesson that Israeli society can learn from the Jewish American community. America’s rabbinic leadership has also risen to the challenge. Several weeks before Israeli shuls were closed, the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County realized that it was not enough to comply with government instructions; they were proactive in closing down shuls and preventing social gatherings in order to reduce the risk of infection. Most communities in the U.S. immediately followed their example. As a relatively new member of the Rabbinical Council of America, I have been very inspired by the courageous and sensitive Halakhic leadership of Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Mordechai Willig, providing almost daily responses to new unprecedented communal challenges. The endless support that North American rabbis have provided to their communities, working day and night under difficult conditions, has been truly inspiring. In Israel, that communal layer, the bridge between the authorities and the individuals, was missing. While there was a broad sense of solidarity, most individuals do not have communities, communal leaders, or rabbis to relate to. The absence of direct communal support and pastoral care during these challenging times has been strongly felt by many.

There is an enormous level of uncertainty about what will happen on the day after Corona, and specifically about the future of American Jewry. Traditionally, America has been the safest place for Jews, economically, politically and socially, a safe ground that became very shaky nowadays. It is impossible to estimate the ripple effects of the pandemic, but it is reasonable to assume that the financial crisis and the unprecedented levels of unemployment will hugely affect the Jewish community. Many businesses within the Jewish community have already been badly hit. Schools, shuls and federations – supported mostly by tuition, membership dues and donations – are already starting to face these challenges. The cost of living, education, health insurance and other expenses may become too heavy burden for many Jewish families to bear. Growing antisemitism may also severely affect the sense of safety of American Jewry.

Perhaps now is the time to return home, recognizing that our safest home is Israel. Experts estimate that the Israeli economy, which as the start-up nation has more flexibility and resilience, will recover faster. Jewish education is almost free here, and health insurance is very inexpensive. While serving for 8 years as a rabbi of an American community in Ra’anana, I realized how much dynamism Olim bring to Israeli society, including the important culture of community, which we are lacking in Israel. If we can now build dozens of American communities across Israel, with experienced communal leaders and rabbis, we will undoubtedly bring a significant change to Israeli society. American Olim, who are usually very professional and talented in fields such as science, education, economy, industry, trade and more, have the potential to make a substantial contribution to the success of Israel.

At the very same time, the Israel government must see the developments and prepare the ground to absorb the potential waves of Aliyah. It is not enough to call people to immigrate to Israel; we need to help them to integrate into the workforce. While serving as a Rabbi in Ra’anana, I’ve seen the most talented professionals, doctors, lawyers, therapists and more that were unable to work in Israel due to dreadful bureaucracy which made it an impossible mission having their qualifications recognized in Israel. This attitude must change promptly and drastically. Utilizing the vast experience of Nefesh B’Nefesh, I have no doubt that there will be ways to improve the Aliyah experience, if the new government would be open to seeing that as a major priority.

I have lived for a couple of years in New York, and I hope to spend more in America for my rabbinical work. I understand how challenging it can be to relocate to Israel, after supporting hundreds of families of Olim as their community rabbi. Indeed, I know that Aliyah is not practical for everyone and that many people have jobs and businesses which are not easily replaceable. I’m talking here about conveying a vision about the future mainly to our children and grandchildren, considering inexpensive higher education in Israel, instead of incurring debt in a struggling economy. By giving Jews around the world a clear message that Israel is their home and their future, and encouraging them to move while they are still young and more adaptable, we can plant the seeds for a positive change. 

I wish to conclude with a true story. In Poland in the early 1930s, lived a man called Yitzchak who constantly talked about Israel and the need to leave Europe and come to Palestine before it was too late. He used to tell everyone that there was no future for Judaism in Europe. People thought he was crazy. Back then, Israel was still full of swamps and camels, while the communities in Poland were at their peak.

Yitzchak lived in Błonie, not far from Warsaw, and belonged to one of the town’s wealthy families. Rabbi Meir Shapiro came to town to promote his great vision – the central yeshiva for European Jewry – Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin. Yitzchak was furious and told everyone: “How can you invest money in a yeshiva that will be set up in Poland? You must send your donations to Eretz Yisrael!” Of course, no one listened to him and he became unpopular. Finally, he decided to take action to realize his vision. His wife Yocheved refused to leave Błonie and their business, so he took his eldest son and immigrated to Israel without her knowledge. When he arrived, he sent her a telegram saying: “If you want to join me in Eretz Yisrael with our other three children, please come. If not, I will send you a divorce bill (gett) and you can stay in Poland.” Yocheved joined him in Israel with the children, and they were one of the only families from that town who survived the Shoah.

Yitzhak Betzeig was my great-grandfather, and the daughter who came over with her mother was my grandmother, who passed away just seven years ago. Thanks to his tremendous vision and courage, I was born and raised in Israel, proudly serving as an officer in the Israeli Navy for six years and building a family and a future here.

We cannot in any way compare the tragedy of the Holocaust with the COVID-19 pandemic, but we need to open our eyes and ears to new challenges and opportunities in the days following Corona. As Ishay Ribo says in his beautiful song, “LaShuv HaBayta”:

“The time has come to wake up; to leave everything, to overcome;
To return home, not to search for any other place.

The time has come to change; even if we’ve missed a few stops;
You can get off, there’s a train going back to the neighborhood.

Everything is possible but where there’s a will, the searcher always finds;
Even if he finds himself somewhere at the far end.”

It is time for Israel to make a drastic change of attitude to the world Jewry and make a paradigm shift regarding Olim, considering the potential waves of Aliyah. Indeed, it is time for all of us to consider coming back home to Israel, the safest place for Jews in our day.