Editor’s note: TJP intern Rosie Bernstein, a rising Yavneh junior, is spending six weeks in Israel on Bnei Akiva’s Mach Hach Ba’aretz program. She will be filing a weekly report about her experience.
By Rosie Bernstein
On Tisha B’Av, I sat in front of a large group of nonreligious Jews with microphones and speakers.
All around me sat small families on picnic blankets and towels.
And beside me sat hundreds of other Mach Hach participants, dressed in their Shabbat finest.
The common denominator: each person held in their hands a copy of Megillat Eicha, Lamentations, and each person was looking over Har Habayit, the Temple Mount.
It was the day that the Temples were destroyed and many other tragedies befell the Jewish people.
As the final moments of Shabbat came to a close, and the national day of mourning began to approach, all 338 members of Mach Hach Ba’aretz hoped and prayed and begged together that the Jewish people would not have to mourn this year, and that in the final moments before Tisha B’Av began, the Messiah would come and the Temple would be rebuilt.
But alas, as three stars appeared in the sky, and Shabbat ended, Har Habayit remained desolate, and the Jewish people remained in exile. And the millions of mourners around the world were forced to ask, “Why?”
We are taught in the Talmud that the Second Temple was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam, unnecessary hatred, and the Third Temple will be rebuilt when the Jewish people can achieve Ahavat Chinam, baseless love.
I spent the past week in the specialty track of my choice, the Beit Midrash learning program. Each day began with a class from a learned rabbi or teacher, followed by learning in a group setting in preparation for an afternoon trip. In the afternoons, we went to various unique locations for a hands-on activity that would bring our learning to life.
On the first day, we heard from an Ethiopian rabbi about the history and culture of Jewish Ethiopians. He told us about the struggle they went through to return to their homeland, Israel, and he told us about their Jewish brethren in Israel who attempted to deny their entry, claiming they were not really Jewish.
We later visited an Ethiopian village where we had the opportunity to observe some of the daily rituals of Ethiopian Jews. While hand-mixing mud, water and hay in preparation to build an Ethiopian mud hut, I had a major revelation. After learning about the religious rituals of the Ethiopian lifestyle, I could not help but ask myself how anyone could say they are not Jewish. The things they do are different enough from modern Jewry to make it clear that they have been cut off from the nation for thousands of years, but close enough that they cannot possibly come from anyone else.
And when I realized that, I felt a twinge of pain. This is the unnecessary hatred that destroyed the Temple. But just as quickly, I felt consolation. My group of 19 Beit Midrash participants digging in the mud with our fellow Jews was a step toward baseless love. The color of our skin and the tradition of the Torah that was passed down from generation to generation did not matter in that moment. We were just two Jews, two friends, two brothers sharing in our love for Judaism together.
And from that moment on, I started noticing baseless love everywhere.
Baseless love was joining with all Mach Hach members Friday night and davening at the Kotel with thousands of other people from all religions and all denominations, praying different prayers with a common goal and enjoying each other’s company.
Baseless love was all of Mach Hach joining together in one voice to celebrate Shabbat.
Baseless love was sitting 24 hours later overlooking Har Habayit; different people mourning the same loss, accepting of everyone’s differing practices.
Baseless love was walking through the streets of the Old City and seeing two bar mitzvahs at two different times and stopping our schedule to dance with the bar mitzvah boys whom we didn’t know to add to the joy on their special days.
Baseless love is joining hand-in-hand with 47 other people to experience Israel. Each person comes from a different background. Some have been to the Holy Land 20 times, and for others, like me, this is their first. Some can quote verses of the Torah word-for-word by memory, while others struggle to read even a few words.
But none of it makes a difference. For everyone, this is a summer to experience Israel through a unique lens, no matter how many times they have prayed at the Kotel. And the only thing that matters is that we do it together.
After spending 25 hours mourning and really, truly feeling the loss of the Temple, I walk through the streets of Jerusalem, noticing the baseless love that goes on all around me, and I vow to be an active contributor.
And as I hand a falafel pita to an elderly woman begging on the street and watch a soft smile spread across her lips, I know that we are now one step closer to being in a rebuilt Jerusalem all together one day soon.