Today is a very special day in Israel, and it highlights one of the main differences between the Jews and the Arabs.
There will be a hachnasat sefer Torah (bringing of a new Torah scroll to a synagogue) in the Old City of Jerusalem today. The Churva synagogue has been rebuilt and will receive its new sefer Torah this afternoon. (You can see the beautiful interiors and hear a historical recap here).
The Churva (meaning “destroyed”) synagogue has a long history. It was built originally in the early 18th century by Ashkenazic Jews who had just come to live in Israel under the leadership of Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid. They had borrowed money from the Arabs, and when they could not pay the debt the Arabs rioted and destroyed the synagogue. It was rebuilt again in the mid-19th century with the help of Moshe Montefiore and Baron deRothschild, who stipulated that the synagogue be named after his father. Although the official name was “Beit Yaakov”, the “Churva” name stuck.
This beautiful synagogue was destroyed again during the War of Independence, when the Arab League ordered it bombed to the ground. It was thought that this destruction would symbolize that the Jews would never return to the Old City of Jerusalem.
After the liberation of the Old City in 1967, there was controversy as to what to do with the synagogue. The arch was built in 1977, and the final future of the Churva was debated. Some, including Teddy Kollek, wanted to leave the synagogue in ruins, to show to the world how the Arabs wantonly destroyed our holy sites. Others, who ultimately won out, wanted to rebuild the Churva and restore it to its original beauty.
Why do I say that today highlights one difference between the Jews and the Arabs? It shows how we respectively react to misfortune.
In 1948 during the War of Independence many Arabs fled and became refugees. Despite billions of dollars in foreign aid over the past 60+ years, most of them, and their children and grandchildren, are still living in hovels. The Arabs use their poverty as a propoganda tool in order to gain pity and to bash Israel.
And what about the Jewish refugees? Many people hear the phrase “Jewish refugees” and are confused. A quick history lesson: after the end of World War Two, Israel absorbed many Jewish refugees from Europe. In addition, between 1947 and 1948, hundreds of thousands of Jews who lived in Arab lands were persecuted and were made to flee these countries. Israel absorbed 586,000 of them. Israelis had to endure food rationing for years in order to pay for the expense of this absorption. Many immigrants were forced to live in tents for a few years, but then permanent housing was built for them.
In short, the Jews took care of their own. They did not force their own people to live in misery in order to “show the world” how cruel the Arabs were.
Today we celebrate the rebuilding of a beautiful synagogue, which will be a place for prayer and learning Torah. In short, Jewish life will go on there. The ruins will remain in pictures and in history books.
You can have your victimhood – we would rather build.