We’ve been surrounded for some time now; the walls barred and chained. I watch from the roof as the enemy prepares to enter the city. It is the 17th of Tammuz, and I know I’ll never forget this day.
The noise is deafening: battering rams, like a thousand dreaded knocks on your front door, pound out a rhythm of destruction. They pierce the majestic walls of our holy city, dirty feet marching on clean soil.
The adults say I should run to the shelters, but I cannot move from the roof. Red fireballs fly over the stone skyline, black smoke billows from the narrow alleyways, the smell of burnt flesh mingles with summer garbage. People, like tablets broken, crawl through the empty streets and split archways.
I watch as my studious older brother, with barely a sprouted beard, and who, until today, has never left the Yeshiva, grabs a sword from a fallen man. I can see my mother holding on to his tunic, wishing him back. He uncurls her whitened knuckles and runs down the street. On her knees, my mother watches his flying Tzitzus fade away, and tears fall freely from her eyes onto cobblestone.
I remember when this city, this land, was so perfect; the sidewalks were soaked in dignity, the date palms rooted in sublimity. But today sidewalks are soaked in blood, date palms rooted in acid.
I remember the weeks past, the arguments and unreasonable hatred (is hatred ever reasonable?). The overzealous youth burnt our last reserves so we would be forced to leave the gates and go to war; the elders condemned the zealots. I remember sneaking out of bed and eavesdropping on the adults’ midnight meetings. My childish mind could not comprehend of exchanging land for blown-up busses. I just wanted to come out of my hiding place and tell them that when we are united no one can touch us, but I was afraid I would get punished for being out of bed. Anyways, who would listen to a child?
It’s funny how I remember all of these things standing here on the roof, watching the horror unfold. I should really be thinking about important things, like how are we going to survive, how are we to live in a world that destroys truth?
It has been three weeks now since the enemy has broken through the walls and destroyed everything we’ve stood for, and I have not left the roof. It is the 9th of Av. The Temple, a dwelling place for the Divine, has gone to flames – impurity has painted over all that which was once pure. A home that once spoke of peace upon all humanity now screams of divisiveness; a sanctuary that once held solace for an entire people, now lies idolized. It is like a child, pure at the core, being burnt alive.
And we stand around, watching a good man die, listening to a good woman suffer. I’ve never known exile before. Sure I’ve learnt about it in school, but who has lived it? Today, as my roof collapses, I live it – I am a child, a child in exile.
A Few Thousand Years Later:
A child stands on the roof, watching as the gray storm-clouds gather. The clouds open and rockets rain upon the land. Thunderous booms echo through the valleys; lighting bolts flash across the hills.
The adults tell him to run to the shelters, but the child remains rooted to the roof, asking: “Why do the adults shelter me from reality instead of changing it?”
Soldiers, their cheeks still smooth, are called to arms. A world in self-denial, too afraid to face its own demons, pontificates to a nation eternal, “Thou shall negotiate with thy cancer.” – And the child finds it strange when the sick patient condemns the healthy doctor.
The child has been standing for a while now, waiting for the smoke to clear, hoping for the day when Divinity will once again have a home.
(To be continued…)
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