By Aaron Seitler
The air is warm. Streets, crammed with tourists and schoolchildren, are thick with rich sounds and smells. The waft of pizza; excited shouts and laughter. After the flurry of activity accompanying President Trump’s visit to the Western Wall yesterday, the Old City of Jerusalem is once again in a state of keen anticipation. Everyone is eagerly looking forward to the celebrations due to begin this evening, marking 50 years of Israeli sovereignty within a reunified Jerusalem.
Yet I cannot celebrate with an open heart. The tragic news of last night, the murder of 22 innocent people and the injuring of dozens more a mere three miles from my house has been shattering.
I do not wish to hypothesise how, if I were not tucked away in Yeshivah on my gap year, I could have, Chas V’Shalom been affected.
Nor do I wish to lecture about incompetent security or burgeoning Islamic radicalism. Both of these issues are being discussed in national newspapers by minds far superior than mine.
No, what bothers me the most are not any of the aforementioned but rather a question pertinent to all of us in BAUK. This unspeakable attack has prompted me to ask, as I find myself caught between the horrible news updates from my phone and the billowing Israeli flags outside, where the balance lies in my identity. Where do I posit myself between Judaism and Western culture? Israel and the UK?
It is almost cliché, the question that every dutiful, Machane–attending Bnei Akiva Chanich/a has heard ad nauseam:
Are we Jewish Brits or British Jews?
I’d naturally assumed the latter, a perspective that, until today, has only been reinforced by nine months of Yeshiva. Sure we appreciate British culture, cheer on British sportsmen and women during the Olympics and may have even felt an abstract sense of national pride during the Jubilee year, but ultimately that’s not who we are. Right?
We’re our own people with a rich 3,000+ year-old history and we’ve been wandering the planet for the past two millennia, Britain being one of the last stops before the redemption. Right?
Only, whilst one part of my identity is saturated with joy at the prospect of celebrating the continued flowering of this redemption on the 50th anniversary, at the Western Wall itself, the other part is in bereavement.
How can I celebrate the achievements of my people when the city I have grown up in is rocked by such anguish and terror?
Naturally, when the reverse had occurred, tragically all too often, when news would reach Manchester about yet more Jews murdered in terror attacks in Israel, it was painful to hear. Ish Echad B’Leiv Echad.
Yet this is an entirely different experience. Of course, it is bound to unnerve, considering the proximity of the attack to family and friends. Yet this alone does not account for my heartfelt prayers on behalf of- as far as the current information has indicated- non-Jews whom I have had no connection with other than 18 years of compatriotism.
As such, when the flag dancing and associated Chagigah begins tonight, of course I will be celebrating on behalf of the generations of Jews that through the ages, have longed for the return to Jerusalem. However, I shall also be, as none other than Ben-Gurion himself was want to remark “the bereaved among the rejoicing”.
Because the Modern Orthodoxy we aspire to in BAUK is not merely Kippot Serugot and platitudes about “living a balanced life”. It is the challenge of being a committed member of Am Yisrael whilst cognisant of our duties and place beyond, in the present reality.