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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


 

In the aftermath of the enormous tragedy that happened in Meron last week, I wanted to share with you the following articles. Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits, the Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah, wrote a fitting piece of how we should respond, which I suggest we all take to heart. In addition, I suggest you read the following blog post from R. Harry Maryles’ Emes Ve-Emunah blog, where he speaks about the possibility of a silver lining in the aftermath of the tragedy and why he feels it will be short lived. Though he might be right, I believe that the silver lining of which he speaks can become a reality in our lifetime. Lastly, one of the victims of the Meron tragedy left a letter with his friend before he traveled to Meron and told him not to read it until Sunday – its contest is quite powerful.

Blog #1: “United in Grief,” Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovitz, reprinted with permission from aish.com

Unquestionably the most beautiful aspect of the Lag Ba’Omer celebrations in Meron is the way Jews of every flavor come to celebrate together. Nothing warms the heart more than joining in a circle to dance with Jews of every ethnic origin and every Jewish affiliation. Not to mention the abundance of free food and drink provided by Jewish organizations and individuals from around the globe. It is perhaps the most vivid expression of that unspoken awareness that at the core we are all one and the same, and despite our ideological and cultural differences there is a deep love we all have for one another.

And that is what makes the tragedy so much more painful. How could this most pronounced festival of Jewish unity be marred by our inadvertently crushing one another to death?

Tradition has taught us that tragedy is not to be dealt with by blaming others, but rather by doing our own personal soul searching.

Yes, those who were trusted with the responsibility for the safety of the tens of thousands will have their performance investigated. But for the rest of us, the question of what went wrong must send us thinking about the sincerity of the love for one another that we were exhibiting. Do we perhaps crush one another with our statements and actions without considering the consequences?

For the families of the victims and for the young and old that were seriously hurt, life will never be the same. Let us all be sure that we not return to daily life as if nothing happened. We must internalize the destruction we are capable of causing and teach ourselves to disagree when necessary but never to feel or express hatred.

Blog #2: ”Imagine,” R. Harry Maryles, reprinted with permission from Emes Ve-Emunah

On the heels of one of Israel’s greatest tragedies, many of us are still reeling and struggling to understand what happened in Meron on Lag Ba-omer. It is impossible for me to fathom the pain of the families who lost loved ones on that day. 

As it relates to parents like me who send their children to study in Israel for their gap year, I cannot begin to imagine what a parent traveling to Israel for the funeral of their child must be going through. One moment thinking how much their child must be growing by their Israel experience - expecting them to come back a more mature person ready to take on the challenges of life… all gone up in smoke in one moment of unspeakable madness.

All the planning, all the hopes and dreams that parent had moments before this happened were gone in a flash. Applying the words ‘state of shock’ to what they are experiencing is an understatement. Sadly, the emotional wounds they suffer will likely stay with them for the rest of their lives. There are no words... May God comfort them amongst all the mourners of Zion.

It’s hard to see a silver lining in this tragic event. And in fact, I do not really see one. Despite the fact that on the surface it might seems like there is. The following was reported in YWN:

Israelis of all sectors, Jews, Arabs, and Druze, religious and secular, mobilized to assist the victims and their families of one of the worst peacetime disasters in religious history, Ynet reported.

Long lines formed outside Magen David Adom stations across Israel after the organization called to the public to donate blood, especially type O.

So many Israelis showed up, including hundreds of people in Tel Aviv, that people were turned away and told to return on Sunday. People waited for hours in the hot sun to donate blood…

Organizations, private groups and city councils issued offers of assistance, including providing accommodations and food and reciting Tehillim. Residents of the north published offers on social media to accommodate any travelers stranded in the north for Shabbos.

Also, the Chatzor HaGlilit Regional Council established a special municipal center to provide accommodation for travelers stranded in the north of Israel over Shabbos.

Residents of the Druze villages of Yarka Beit Jen and Yanuh-Jat and residents of Arab villages in the Meron area offered accommodations to travelers in their homes or hostels. Arab and Druze villages set up refreshment stations at nearby junctions with kosher food, drinks, and fruit for the thousands of people traveling from Meron to the center of the country. (Read there for more.) 

On the surface I cannot think of a better ‘silver lining’ than this. Only the most jaded among us could deny this moment of unity. The idea that Arabs are opening their hearts and minds to help out in this moment of great need for the Jewish people is - to the best of my knowledge - unprecedented. This is a unique and quite remarkable moment of Achdus (unity). Not only between the varieties of Orthodox Jews... not only between Jews of all stripes from the most secular to the most religious... but even between Jews and Arabs! 

I wish I could believe this event will precipitate change. And that true Achdus has finally arrived. That people of good will now finally see the humanity in each and every one of us. Regardless of Hashkafa (philosophy), level of observance, no observance at all, or even regardless of what religion we are.

So as beautiful as the unity of man that this tragedy has brought about at this moment in time, it will not last. It is a mirage. When tragedy of this magnitude strikes - this kind of thing happens all the time. People of good will drop their agendas and rise to the occasion - bonding as human beings. That is what is happening now. But it won’t be long before all of this Achdus disappears. And we will all be back to business as usual. Each one of us with an agenda at odds with those who think differently than us. Sometimes expressed with violence. 

What this tragedy and other like it shows is that Achdus is possible. That we can put our differences aside and work together with mutual respect in brotherhood. 

But I have stopped being a believer.  

There is a very popular song called Imagine authored by the late John Lennon. Popular because of its message of unity. It includes the following words: 

Imagine all the people living life in peace… and the world will be as one. 

Ironically this song promotes atheism and communism as the way to achieve the unity it promotes. Which I obviously strongly disagree with. But the prayerful message of Achdus it sends should not be overlooked. That is something all people of good will seek. We differ only in how to achieve it.

I have lately come to believe that it will never happen. Even though there are so many people in the world that seek it and believe in it. The prayerful tone of unity is what makes Imagine so popular. But I have been disappointed too many times to believe even an event like this will change anything. Before you know it, we will be back to hating each other.

Blog #3: The Chilling Letter a Meron Victim Left Before His Death, reprinted with permission from Yeshiva World News 

Reb Shimon Matlon, z’l, a 37-year-old Breslover chassid, a father of 11, and a Rebbe in a Talmud Torah in Beitar Illit, lost his life in the Meron disaster.

His friends and acquaintances say that R’ Shimon was a ba’al aliya (a lofty person), who was constantly engaged in tzadaka and chessed, and was a true eved Hashem (servant of G-d), suffused in simcha and emuna (belief).

On Sunday, Chareidi journalist Yossi Elituv, who knew the niftar (deceased) personally, published a letter that Reb Shimon, z’l, entrusted with his friend last Thursday, requesting that he open it only on Sunday.

When the grieving friend opened the letter on Sunday, never having imagined he would be doing so after his friend’s tragic demise, he was astounded to read the words (in rhyme) that Shimon, z’l had written:

Instead of feeling disappointed – accept everything with love.
Instead of being strict – be flexible.
Instead of grumbling – let your seichel (logic) guide you.
Instead of finding fault – have more gratitude.
Instead of complaining – put negativity in perspective.
Instead of drowning – say “Hakol M’Shamayim.” (all is from Heaven)
Instead of blaming the whole world – remember Who is greater than all.
Instead of getting angry – breathe deeply.
Instead of getting irritated – practice emunah. (belief)
Instead of seeing black – choose to see the full half [of the cup].
Instead of sinking in depression – remember that Hashem can you save from every difficulty.
– Because Hashem determines the situation (המצב) – and you determine your state of mind (מצב הרוח).