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Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Committed to our land by Michael Freund

"Faith creates reality"
JPost: This coming Monday night marks the beginning of Tisha B'Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, when we commemorate the torrent of tragedies that have engulfed our people over the millennia.

From the destruction of the First and Second Temples in ancient times, to the expulsion from Spain in 1492, on through the outbreak of World War II, Tisha B'Av has always been a day filled with calamity, grief and sorrow.

As the ninth day of the eleventh month on the Hebrew calendar, it is the Jewish 9/11, our people's national day of infamy.

Then again, in our current situation, it seems that anyone looking for reasons to despair need not consult the history books. A casual glance at the headlines is often enough to inspire a sense of both anguish and gloom.

Around the world anti-Semitism is on the rise as Diaspora Jewry finds itself increasingly under attack. From Australia to Canada, and from France to the former Soviet Union, the forces of hate seem to be gaining steam.

Simultaneously, even as our foes grow stronger, the Jewish people grow weaker, sinking in a sea of assimilation and intermarriage. Unprecedented numbers of Jews are marrying out, which, when combined with declining birthrates and an aging population, raises serious doubts about the future of various Jewish communities abroad.

Israel continues to be battered by Palestinian terrorism, while the international community subjects us to scorn and condemnation. The fissures in society between religious and secular, Right and Left, have yet to heal, while the ongoing political crisis and lack of leadership give us little reason to hope for any immediate improvement.

Indeed, despondency would seem to be the order of the day, as our national predicament only seems to worsen from year to year.

AND YET, ironically enough, there were two events this past week - the week before Tisha B'Av, no less - that offer compelling reasons not to give up on the dream of building a brighter and better Jewish future.

The first came in the form of a planeload of some 450 North American Jews, who made aliya last Wednesday through the Nefesh B'Nefesh organization. What better proof could there possibly be that Jewish idealism is alive and well than the fact that hundreds of young people would leave the comforts of the West to come and settle in the Land of Israel?

Undeterred by terror or by the fragile economic situation, these brave pioneers have set an example many others will hopefully soon follow.

The second source of inspiration and hope could be found in statistics released on Monday by the Interior Ministry.

Despite the threat of withdrawal hanging over their heads, it turns out that in the first six months of 2004, the number of Jews living in Gaza actually soared, growing at a rate three times faster than last year.

Isolated Jewish communities in Gaza such as Netzarim, Morag and Kfar Darom all experienced double-digit population growth, with the total number of Jews in Gaza rising from 7,800 to 8,158.

Put aside, for a moment, your views on the wisdom of Jews living in the territories, and think about how blessed we are as a nation to have such dedicated people in our midst, people imbued with patriotism and love of country, willing to sacrifice so much for the sake of our Land.

THE JEWS of Gaza have been targeted by more than 4,200 Palestinian rockets and mortar shells in the past four years. They have been demonized and delegitimized by the media, disparaged by the Left, and threatened with expulsion by their own prime minister.

Under such conditions, it would have been perfectly logical to expect their numbers to contract. After all, who could possibly live under such pressure?

But it seems that the Jewish people still have deep, untapped reservoirs of faith, conviction and belief. Even after everything the world has thrown at us, even after all the horrors and wars of the past half-century, we remain committed to our land, to our people and to our God.

Sure, the problems we face are breathtaking, the difficulties are fierce, and the challenges often seem insurmountable. But the indomitable spirit of this tiny, yet stubborn little nation, the resolute determination it continues to demonstrate in the struggle to cling to its land, is something that should give us all grounds for optimism.

It was this same tenacity that ensured our survival throughout the Exile, and it will surely not let us down now that we have returned home.

As Menachem Begin once noted, in his book The Revolt, "faith is perhaps stronger than reality, for faith itself creates reality."

So long as we remain confident in the justness of our cause, no power in the world can prevent us from fulfilling our destiny. Thankfully, there are still many Jews out there who continue to nourish and nurture precisely this dream.

So, this Tisha B'Av, I along with millions of other Jews will mourn the tragedies of our past, and ponder what might have been had we only remained united as a people.

But, at the same time, I won't be able to avoid cracking a quick little smile, for as much as our tribulations might continue to haunt us, the Jewish people have not lost hope.
The writer served as deputy director of communications & policy planning under former premier Binyamin Netanyahu.