Sources & Philosophy

Stef Wertheimer

A Strange Desire: To Fast on Tisha B’Av

Published in Haaretz, 10/08/2008

It has been more than a month that I have had a strange desire: to fast on Tisha B’Av. Let all the worried people calm down – I have not decided to develop religious sentiments after the age of 80. I am secular and I shall remain so. Nevertheless, this date, which denotes the departure of the Jewish people from their land, its exile more than two thousand years ago, awakens in me dark thoughts, relating to the here and now.

 

For many years I tended to agree with the argument that on realization of the Zionist vision and the establishment of the State of Israel Tisha B’Av lost its significance. I am not an ultra orthodox person waiting for redemption or the coming of the Messiah. My redemption is achieved by human beings, builders, creators, settlers and instigators by their acts of a new reality for the Jewish people.

 

Moreover, Jerusalem is not particularly close to my heart. In my eyes it is the seat of impermeable officialdom and bureaucracy which prevents initiatives of achievement and creativity.  I know, of course, that Jerusalem symbolizes much more than that, however I have never been attracted to symbols that represent the past. My heart is with the other parts of the land of Israel such as the Galilee and the Negev – areas of low populations, which are waiting for settlement and development. I prefer to turn to the future, and in my eyes it is here and not in Jerusalem.

 

However, I believe that the perspective of the broader significance for which Tisha B’Av is famous – is still valid. Pursuant to this broader significance on Tisha B’Av the Israeli people express their sorrow that they are still in exile and its desire to return to live fully independent and healthy lives in our country, as it was before the destruction of the Temple.

 

I know what exile is. I was a refugee. Although I was only aged ten when my family escaped from Nazi Germany, this experience has instilled in me throughout my entire life the desire to put down roots and possess the land. However although I have been active in the Zionism of settlement and creativity I do not feel that I am permitted and am able to rest under my own vine and fig tree. I have an uneasy feeling, a feeling of failure – as if we are still in exile. As if to say our bodies have immigrated to Israel however our spirits, our mentality, have remained as refugees.

 

We bow down “to those who have done well” overseas, we scorn productive work, labour, practical skills, and praise finance people, attorneys and any type of knowledge which enables packing a suitcase and escaping from here with it.

 

How many years can people live in their country and continue to sit with their chattels as if they are transient visitors?

 

For generations of life in exile we were forced to live distorted lives, unhealthy, without any productivity and creativity. When we were given the opportunity to become healthy we discovered that what had been forced upon us had become a part of us. It is not easy to get rid of a lifestyle of wanderers.

 

In our society it is preferable to be an attorney than to integrate as a professional worker in sophisticated industry, which promises satisfaction and respect. In Israeli society, I am ashamed to write this, it is shameful to work; shameful to stand between machines in a blue overall and produce real products.

 

Entire industries in Israel are crying out for skilled hands of educated people. And this is not because there is no money in the field. The industries are prepared to pay these employees well. The reason is that the real values of Zionism have been reversed. The pyramid is again standing on its head. This is a direct result of our educational system, which places at the top of the ladder the manipulative values of earning a living above he problems of others, whereas a life of creativity and of contribution by the workers and their state have been pushed to the bottom of the ladder.

 

Alongside my devotion to free competition, I have always believed that man who creates something real in his work constitutes a value in itself, which gives significance to his life – in particular to us, the Jews, with our special history.

 

As far as this is concerned, therefore, Tisha B’Av has direct relevance to our lives here and now. It should remind us of our disease: the illusion that we have already been redeemed from exile while actually we are still immersed in it.

 

The concept according to which land is a guarantee for security should be correlated with the reality of the pr4esent day. Security is the means and not the objective. I am absolutely certain that the status of a life of creativity and work, when we are people who are sure of themselves and their place, we will be able to hold out a safe hand to peace with the Palestinians and with the Arab countries and to share with them the enterprise that we are building. It will be possible to do this from a place of equality and open heart.

 

We will never have free lives of a nation that sits with surety on its land and we will never achieve peace, which is possible, with our neighbours, if we continue to act as fading leaves, Jews in exile, who live a life of fear and defensiveness.

 

I am not waiting for an external entity who will bring us salvation. The work of redemption is a tough job for all of us. There is need for new thinking in all matters relating to the fields of education (a country that is destroying its professional education is committing suicide) regarding industry, and the migration from the ethical and physical State of Tel Aviv in favour of the developing periphery.

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