The military conflict between Israel and Hamas has been an upsetting experience for many Jews around the world. Jewish shops and synagogues in Paris were targeted. Many pro-Palestinian demonstrations across Europe and here in Canada exuded anti-Semitic sentiment with shouts of “Kill the Jews!” and “Hitler was right!”. In Calgary, a Jewish man was dragged along the street and a Jewish woman was punched several times. I came across too many comments on Facebook expressing great antipathy towards Israel – and some of these people have no compunction about calling for the end of the two-state solution and Israel. And, of course, I watched skewed reporting of the conflict, to say the least.
And the truth is, I have felt fear. I’m afraid about what this means for Jews around the world. I’m afraid of what this means for my safety. I’m afraid to learn that some people I know want my beloved Israel gone – and that some of these people may well harbour anti-Semitic views, overt or latent.
When I was 17, I took part in a phenomenal 6-week tour of Israel. On one occasion, we walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Jerusalem, mentioned in the Bible (2 Kings 20:20). I walked through that tunnel knowing that I was making a tangible connection with my heritage and with the Tanach (Bible). Ahead of us, a group of newly-initiated Israeli soldiers, young men and women, began singing: “Kol ha’olam kulo gesher tzar me’od, gesher tzar me’od… V’ha’ikar, v’ha’ikar lo l’fached klal” – “The entire world is a very narrow bridge; and the essential thing is not to be afraid.”
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s words, with a melody by Baruch Chait, continue to resonate – in every sense of the word – within me so many years later. If the world is a narrow bridge, then we can easily fall off. We are in peril. Dangers abound. So mustn’t we tread carefully and with trepidation? No. “V’haikar lo l’fached klal” – we must not be afraid. We must embrace the values we have been imparted. We must forge ahead.
As we approach the High Holy Days, we become aware that God is judging us; that our actions should be evaluated. Let us approach this time with truth and honesty and also with the knowledge that we, as Jews, must forge ahead, unafraid of who we are and unafraid of the values and legacy that we have been given. I choose to remind myself that I should not fear how I am seen by the world – but by God.
Like the Israeli soldiers in Hezekiah’s Tunnel, may our voices on these Days of Awe rise in unison to a thunderous and triumphant expression of joy, camaraderie, and community. This is how we cross the narrow bridge that is our world to the other side.