Today, the tenth of the Hebrew month of Tevet, commemorates the beginning of the siege on Jerusalem in 589 BCE by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Ultimately, this siege led to the destruction of the First Temple and the exile of the Jews to Babylonia.
With the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the 10th of Tevet was declared Yom Hakadish Haklali (Collective Day of Kaddish). It is a collective reciting of the Kaddish (prayer for the dead) for those who died in the Holocaust whose precise date of death is unknown. Yom Hakadish Haklali reflects our shared responsibility, our joined destiny, the notion of Kol Yisreael Arevim Zeh Bazeh—that all of Israel are responsible for each other.
Today we also mark the 147th anniversary of the birth of one of Israel’s greatest pioneers of modern Hebrew poetry, Hayim Nahman Bialik. In his poetry, Bialik gave voice to the revival of modern, sovereign life in the Jewish land. Although Bialik unfortunately died prior to Israel becoming a state, he will always be recognized as Israel’s national poet.
In 1903, Bialik was commissioned by the Jewish Historical Society of Odessa to travel to Kishinev, where in the course of a three-day pogrom, 47 Jews had been murdered. His experience interviewing the survivors led him to write the epic “City of Slaughter,” which reflects Bialik’s bitterness at the absence of justice and the indifference of nature.
Unfortunately, today one does not need to travel as far as Kishinev to witness anti-Semitism firsthand. Horrific recent attacks in NY, adding to the killings in Pittsburgh, Poway, and Jersey City, clearly mirror the rise in anti-Semitic abuse and violence in North America and Europe. From parliaments to campuses, verbal and physical assaults on Jews are increasing, showing that the monstrousness hatred deemed taboo for much of the second half of the 20th century, is on the rise once again, showing its ugly head on the surface. It has become mainstreamed and normalized, allowing its demonized actions to make way through society, leaving renewed trails of blood and animosity.
Bialik mourned 47 innocent victims of 1903 Kishinev. Victims of cruel antisemitic were a result of propaganda from Bessarabian, the most popular newspaper in Kishinev. It regularly published articles with headlines such as “Death to the Jews!” and “Crusade against the Hated Race!” In addition, the paper insinuated that a young girl who had committed suicide and a boy who was found dead were murdered by the Jewish community for the purpose of using their blood in the preparation of matzot for Passover. These insinuations and allegations sparked the deadly pogrom.
In 2020 America and Europe, our haters are more sophisticated than their 19th-century brothers in ideology, but their hatefulness and animosity is not less cruel and most certainly, it is not less painful.
Antisemitic activists today feed their hate from anti-Zionism propaganda. Propaganda that claims to expose what in their minds is reality but is actually a twisted reality based on lies, personal agenda, pure evil, and rancor.
Back in Tel Aviv, Bialik devoted himself to cultural activities and public affairs. In a celebratory ceremony in 1925, Bialik delivered the keynote speech in honor of the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem where he served as a member of its board of governors.
By writing in Hebrew, Bialik contributed significantly to the revival of the Hebrew language, which before his days existed primarily as an ancient, scholarly tongue. His influence is felt deeply in all modern Hebrew literature. In his own intellectual, yet rooted presence, in his diligent work and involvement, Bialik contributed greatly to the cultural foundations of the soon to be born Jewish State, leaving his mark forever as one of the founders of Tel Aviv, the first Hebrew city.
Bialik fought antisemitism in the only way possible: by Jewish creation, Jewish revival, focusing on the good, building a stronger sense of who we are as the Jewish people, offering his contribution to us becoming a better version of ourselves. Not for the sake of addressing antisemitism or proving it’s based on lies. Anti-Semites will not be convinced. They aren’t looking for the truth or seek clarity. Their minds are set, fixated by ancient hate, bound to one another by nothing more than unjustified, unreasonable odium. Bialik laid his building block for our own sake, for a brighter future based on culture, intellect, arts, and beauty.
Recent antisemitic actions are the direct opposite. They are based on ignorance, prejudice, and bias. They are humanity’s ugliest face. At times trying to hide behind human rights, and mostly looking for any excuse, any imaginary, false justification.
This past Sunday, tens of thousands of people, Jewish and non-Jewish, marched in New York City against anti-Semitism and hate calling for “No Hate. No Fear.” Here in Jerusalem, although not quite as large, a similar rally took place in the streets of the city. The resilience and bravery of North American Jewry and Jews around the world in the face of this ongoing wave of violence is a source of inspiration, pride, and strength.
I hurt with my brothers and sisters across the ocean, thousands of miles away but never closer than now. I cry for the innocent victims in Pittsburgh, Poway, New Jersey, Monsey, Halleh Germany, Paris and other cities around the world that have been shaken by evil and cruelty, beaten, left to mourn their dead, heal and then spread hope. We are stronger than hate, stronger together, forever.
“Antisemitism begins with Jews, but it never ends with them. A world without room for Jews is one that has no room for difference, and a world that lacks space for difference lacks space for humanity itself.” Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Vice President, Israel Engagement, Director, Center for Israel Engagement