A Stubborn People

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02 Mar 2011

It was a cold, icy night, raining, as the saying goes, cats and dogs. Until that morning, the Jerusalem weather had been warm and spring like, and no one, including myself was really prepared for this sudden downpour. Just a few hours before, there had been vague hints of spring, but they had not materialized.

It was an ordinary winter night in Jerusalem.

I had stopped in to visit my married daughter, and was now waiting at the bus stop, huddled under a store awning in a vain attempt to find protection from the elements.

Without warning, the buses stopped coming and the normally busy street became suddenly empty. There were several police cars parked in Kikkar Shabbos and I could see soldiers patrolling the street.

My first reaction was that there must be a car bomb, or perhaps warning of a pending terrorist attack. But then I heard music coming from a distance, and saw that people were beginning to congregate in the square.

After making a few inquiries, I found out that the streets had been closed in honor of the crowds returning home from Binyanei Ha’uma, the Jerusalem Conference Hall, where thousands had attended the Siyum Hashas.

I was soaking wet and shivering in the chilly Jerusalem weather – and very upset that I had missed the last bus before the street was closed.

Then, it happened, almost instantaneously. Within minutes, the Kikkar was full of endless circles of people dancing. Up and down the streets, as far as I could see were Jews with long peyos, Jews with long hair, Jews without peyos, Jews with hats, Jews without hats, Jews in Army raincoats, Chassidic Jews, Litvishe Jews, Jews from the settlements, Jews from Meah Shearim, arms clasped around each others shoulders, some balancing umbrellas, dancing – twirling, jumping – in the pouring rain.

I felt the tears came to my eyes; tears of awe. I was reminded of an event that happened during the Gulf War, over 14 years ago, when I was in the hospital. Due to the emergency situation, there was a nightly audio visual presentation in the room that I shared with another four women. The nurses and mobile patients would congregate in our room to watch the special news report.

That Shabbat we had raced to our sealed room several times and everyone was, of course, anxious to hear the news report. The camera focused on the remains of a four story apartment building in Ramat Gan, just outside of Bnei Brak, and in a voice laden with emotion, the reporter told how everyone in the building had left – one to take a walk, another to visit a friend – minutes before the missile landed. Now the residents were returning to make havdalah in the remnants of their homes.

The room was silent. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the screen. I noticed the Arab patient in the bed next to me unobtrusively leave the room, silently closing the door behind her. We listened to the broadcasted havdala and answered ‘amen.’ At the conclusion, the bracha, “she’aseh li nes b’makom zeh,” “Who has made a miracle for me at this place,” was recited. And then, in the shadow of what had once been their homes, the men burst out singing “Am Yisrael Chai” and began to dance. By the eerie light of high powered projectors, they rejoiced in the survival of the Jewish nation.

The women in the room began singing along with the television set. There was not a dry eye. I felt as if I was watching the story of our people and was reminded of a song that we had sung as children: “Who can retell the things that befell us? Who can count them?” But yet, despite everything that had befallen them, these survivors of Sadam’s missiles were rejoicing because Am Yisrael Chai, the Jewish nations lives!

I started keeping kosher and Shabbos in the late ‘60’s, when I was a sophomore in high school. My father was, understandably, upset that his daughter had chosen such a different lifestyle. “In another thirty years,” he forecast, “no one will keep kosher. The old people are dying out and their children are not religious.”

My father could have never predicted the tremendous rebirth of Torah Judaism that we are witnessing today. He had always taught us that “Jews are a stubborn people,” yet he never realized exactly where their stubbornness lay. Hitler did not succeed, Sadam Hussein did not succeed, and the Palestinians will not succeed in destroying our nation’s stubborn adherence to Torah.

Watching the dancing in Kikkar Shabbos, I realized that my father’s predictions and the predictions of so many others of his generation had been proven wrong. Am Yisrael Chai! The Jewish Nations lives! Who would have imagined, just forty years ago, that hundreds of thousands of Jews throughout the world would gather together to rejoice in their study of Torah? Instead of vanishing from the universe, we are still here, alive and thriving. What greater miracle is there than the existence of our people?

I was so moved by the events of the evening that upon returning home, rather than collapsing into bed, I sat, wet clothes and all, to write my thoughts. As my father always said, “Jews are a stubborn people,” and, thank God, I am a Jew and yes, I am stubborn.

Debbie Shapiro is a widely published author and a longtime Jerusalem resident. Her latest book, Women Talk, is a compilation of interviews with great Jewish women — and all Jewish women are great! To read more of her articles or contact her for speaking engagements, please visit her blogspot, Debbie Shapiro of Jerusalem

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.