As the high summer draws to a close, the Jewish High Holy Days approach. This is a time for reflection on this year, the years ahead and time for an examination of faith, and for physical and emotional endurance.
Judaism has been around more than 3,000 years. It has seen some things change, and others, not so much. Judaism was the first monotheistic religion, yet it often struggles to survive.
But survive it will, even as it adapts over the centuries.
Closing the High Holy Days is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, of penitence and petition. There is a portion of the day during which a Martyrology is often read. The Martyrology tells the stories of individuals who have been murdered because of their faith. The point of this reading is to remember those individuals and to examine one's life as well, perhaps asking oneself, “Do our lives and actions honor those deaths?”
Recalling their sacrifices is meant to inspire us to do better with our own lives. The Roman Catholics also read a Martyrology during specific services, again both to honor those deaths and to provide inspiration.
The traditional Jewish Martyrology talks about 10 rabbis who died in ancient times. Other services talk about more modern situations, sharing new names, and stories in times more recent than the Romans, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Russian Pogroms and the Holocaust.
This year, perhaps the names of one American and two Israeli boys might be read, murdered for their faith this past June in Israel. And now Israel fights against attacks by Hamas, an organization whose seventh article in its charter states the desire for the destruction of Jews, and the 13th article derides peaceful solutions as, “contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement.”
The Jewish faith has continued during the centuries, but even as it has evolved we have faced ongoing, persistent hostility. Some attacks may be more verbal than physical, but they are attacks, nonetheless. This sort of faith-based persecution is not reserved solely for the Jews. The Yazidis in Iraq, in the past few weeks and Christians in Egypt and Syria have also been targeted because of the way they believe and worship. The Sunnis and the Shia’s also battle against each other, due to disagreements over the successor to the Prophet Mohammed.
However, none of these groups turn from their faith despite persecution. Even in this time of heightened violence against Jews outside of Israel, with attacks in France, Belgium and Kansas, Jews are not abandoning their religion, nor are they diving underground. Instead, we are reaching out to find common ground. We also pose a different set of questions, like those of Amos Oz, an Israeli writer, who began an interview recently with a question, “What would you do if your neighbor across the street sat down on the balcony, put his little boy on his lap and started shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?”
Jews have often faced, and survived, what appear to be insurmountable odds. From the destruction of Temple in Jerusalem during Roman times, continuing to the war launched on Israel the day it became a country, to the current conflict in Gaza, the Jewish people have continued. We draw strength from our faith and ongoing conversation with the Divine. And as we pray, we will continue to honor our martyrs, every year on Yom Kippur and at other moments.
We will continue to stand against hopelessness and fear with an endurance born of long experience. The battle taking place in Gaza is taking a toll on the gift that is human life. Those lost lives are terrible thing and peace must surely come, someday.
But as Golda Meir stated, in 1973, “there will be no peace until the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.”
Edie Yakutis works with Ritual Life at Temple Solel in Fort Mill. Email her firstname.lastname@example.org.