Jewish time is different. In addition to being unusual, this difference is important because it is one of elements that that has preserved the Jewish people over the centuries.
What's 2000 years?
Americans think that 100 years is a long time. Many do. There are other nations that know better, for example the Greek and Italians who can see the evidence of their ancient history and know the impact their culture has had on the world.
It is not the existence of a glorious past or even the sheer number of years that make the difference - it is the way they are remembered. Time is shaped by memory.
On Tisha B'Av, the 9th day of the month of Av (Jewish calendar) we commemorated the day when both the first and second Temples were destroyed, the first by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.; the second by the Romans in 70 C.E.
Tisha B'Av is a day of mourning, fasting and introspection. Secular Jews may not fast but do spend the day thinking about hatred (which is what led to the destruction of the Temple) and how we can make our society a better, kinder place.
The Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. it is now 2016. Nations rose and fell, borders were drawn and redrawn. Many wars occurred. A number of genocides. The Holocaust. Indoor plumbing, electricity, cars and the internet. It is next to impossible to fathom all the changes that have occurred in that time.
One thing has not changed. The Jewish people still exist, remember the Temple in the heart of Jerusalem and mourn its loss.
The Temple that stood on the Temple Mount was built on top of the Foundation Stone, the rock tradition says God used as a foundation for creating the world. The Ark of the Covenant was placed on top of the Foundation Stone, in the Holy of Holies, making the Temple the physical home of God in the world. God is intangible and everywhere but that is the spot that marked God's resting place thus making it the center of the world.
The Temple was the center of Jewish culture. It was the place the Nation of Israel looked to, gathered in and focused on. Destroying the Temple was meant to destroy the Jewish people. The exile that followed, scattering the Jews across the globe, should have eliminated any cohesive nationhood that existed. The people should have become like the nations they lived amongst and forgotten their Jewishness, that they belonged to Israel and that there is supposed to be a Temple on the mountain in the heart of Jerusalem.
It didn't work.
You could say the religion helped preserve Jewish culture (and it did) but throughout history there have been other nations whose religion was not enough to preserve them. You could say sheer stubbornness. That is also true but many other people are also stubborn so obviously that is not enough either. People of faith will exclaim: "It is God who made this so! The story of the Jewish people is that of prophesy being fulfilled."
I believe most people view the restoration of Israel as miraculous, whether they believe it is a miracle from God or a man-made miracle of sheer determination. Either way the question becomes, how was this possible?
It is easy to forget. Do you remember what you did this day one year ago? Now try imagining 2000 years ago… impossible right?
Jewish time is different. It is fluid in a way no other time is, due to Jewish memory.
Every year when we celebrate Passover, tradition commands us that we REMEMBER being slaves in Egypt. It is not our ancestors who were saved from slavery, it is each and every one of us. We were slaves. We experienced the Exodus. The Torah was given to us.
Not to people that lived thousands of years ago but to each and every one of us living today.
Ever since the Exodus from Egypt Jews have been telling their children that the rise from slavery to a free nation was their own personal miracle. Ever since Jews have been teaching their children to REMEMBER.
Today many Jews have become secular. They may never pray at all or even believe in God and yet they still preserve the tradition of telling their children of the exodus from Egypt in the present tense: "We were slaves in Egypt and God rescued us."
Jewish memory is reinforced with Jewish experiences.
Jewish women that light the Sabbath candles know that at the very same time there are women throughout their country and around the world doing the exact same thing. This is the same action and ritual that was done by countless women, over the generations, across the globe, for centuries. When I light the Sabbath candles I am not just me, I am also all of those women.
Jews lived (and are still living) in vastly different cultures. The experiences of Jews in India were different from those of Jews in France and yet they were also the same, connected by rituals, traditions, holidays, priorities and values that all stem from Judaism. Even the non-religious Jews knew they were connected by mutual heritage. Jews may live in other countries but they all belong to Israel.
It is the living memory that has preserved the traditions which, in turn have preserved Jewish culture. Our nationhood was not determined by the Temple that was the center of all Jewish experience or even by the possibility of living in the land where our nation belonged. Remembering our connection to God, Israel and each other did. Sometimes it was the nations that Jews lived amongst that helped us remember that we belonged to each other and not to them but it was always our belonging to the same memory that came first.
After the re-establishment of Israel as the Jewish State many Jews feel that their belonging to the State can replace their sense of belonging to the traditions or religion. This is dangerous in that it weakens the ties of the collective memory.
The secular Jew may teach their children of the Exodus from Egypt but forget to teach about the Temple that was once at the heart of the Nation. Religious Jews remember to grieve for the Temple, for the connection to God and the rich culture that was lost. Many secular Jews do not see this as their personal loss and this is dangerous.
Memory is what gave our people meaning and preserved it over centuries. It upheld the Jewish people through terrible experiences. It facilitates belonging, the connections of a nation between people who can live continents apart and still belong together and to the same country.
Jerusalem and the Temple Mount are central to all of this. They are what symbolize our connection to God and to the land of Israel. For centuries Jews have yearned for Jerusalem saying every year: "Next year we will be in the rebuilt Jerusalem." Jewish weddings cannot be completed before the groom publically states that Jerusalem comes before all other joys and the destruction of the ancient Temple is commemorated. It is not our holidays or our rituals that have held the Jewish people together (although they have helped) it is our core, the anchor on earth, the center of Jewish consciousness and meaning: Jerusalem and the Temple that once stood in the heart of the city.
If this is forgotten or neglected what will preserve the nation in the years to come?
We have lots of ideas, but we need more resources to be even more effective. Please donate today to help get the message out and to help defend Israel.