This is a guest post by Harry Ben-Zvi
By the time the eruption of homicidal hate finally subsided, hundreds of men, women and children had been beaten, raped and murdered for having been born Jewish. Hayyim Nahman Bialik – one of the pioneers of modern Hebrew poetry who would go on to be recognized as Israel’s national poet – was subsequently sent to interview the survivors and document the atrocity of the 1903 pogrom in Kishinev – then the capital of the Bessarabia province of the Russian Empire.
In response to what he saw and heard, Bialik wrote a heart wrenching poem titled “In the City of Slaughter” that not only encapsulated the condition of European Jewry throughout the 20th century but condemned Jewish passivity in the face of anti-Semitism.
Below is an excerpt:
“For since they have met pain with resignation
And have made peace with shame,
What shall avail thy consolation?
They are too wretched to evoke thy scorn.
They are too lost thy pity to evoke”.
For all that separated them, the Orthodox and Progressive Jews of Europe shared two fatal flaws: a stoic endurance of pain and an acceptance of life lived in shame.
And it was a millennium of Jewish surrender that culminated with the Holocaust.
Yet by making peace with servility, the Jewish nation was acting of its own free will and it is not G-d but rather ourselves who must be held to account. Indeed, the history of the Jews from time immemorial to this very moment bears witness to a terrible, immutable truth: neither constitution nor manifesto, king nor president, Torah nor G-d will protect those who are unable or unwilling to protect themselves.
“Of Hasmoneans lay, with trembling knees,
Concealed and cowering,—the sons of the Maccabees!
The seed of saints, the scions of the lions!
Who, crammed by scores in all the sanctuaries of their shame,
So sanctified My name!”
Tesha B’Av, is more than a national day of mourning. Rather, it is a time to reflect upon the utter desolation that has always been wrought in the wake of our ancestors’ decision to fatalistically absorb the brutal blows inflicted by history’s rabid dogs.
Our G-d is a glorious G-d capable of showing us the way to redemption and leading us out of the darkness and back home after 2,000 years of exile. However, our G-d is also a heavy, heavy G-d, capable of bitterness, spite, rage and scorn whenever we fail to live lives imbued with yidishkeit – the extraordinary lives of those beholden to no man, kingdom or the kindness of strangers.
Beholden only to G-d.