We are nearing the end of the fifty days of counting the Omer. This period of seven weeks also encompasses Israel’s secular national holidays: Holocaust Memorial Day, Remembrance Day, Independence Day, and Jerusalem Day.
Thus far, we have not been able to gather in celebration or commemoration of any of these days, which has been difficult because they are so important to Israel’s modern-day identity and normally get much attention.
Shopping malls, cafÃ©s, public transportation, universities, and even synagogue services all came to a screeching halt in mid-March when the prime minister issued a required quarantine order. This left the typically active Israeli social scene quiet and feeling somewhat depressed. Jerusalem—normally bursting at the seams with tourists—has become extraordinarily still with the kind of stillness that begs for movement. Her gates yearn for sound and to hear the languages of all nations.
Although many activities have been put on hold during the coronavirus, the government decreed that every “essential” activity or job should continue. Interestingly enough, “building” was ruled “essential.” Neither road work, nor the construction of homes, nor improvements to parks and sidewalks have stopped during this time. This realization caused me to think about what a miracle it is to physically see the promises of the Word being fulfilled:
The LORD builds up Jerusalem; He gathers the outcasts of Israel. (Psalm 147:2)
This reality became even more poignant when, just across our fence in the open lot behind our house, the noise of “building” pierced the silence in a proud and resilient way. It seems that our neighbors’ sons have engaged themselves in a building project during these days of staying at home. How wonderful it is to see them embody and inspire the determination and initiative for which our country is known!
As I thought more about it, I realized that it’s not just my neighbor boys who are taking this time to innovate and break the silence. It’s our whole nation. The Israeli medical community is forging new and cutting-edge ways to help the world in its management of the coronavirus, tour guides are bringing Israel’s sites right into your home, and our high-tech start-ups are pushing distance communication and tracking (while maintaining civilian privacy) to whole new levels. There is no end to the online learning classes that one can take—everything from cooking and exercise to Torah and Talmud.
Our country, although only seventy-two years young, has been innovating ways to keep our identity for millennia; it’s just what the Jewish people do. Then, in 1948, the scattered wandering nation stood amazed as HaShem gathered the outcasts from all nations and brought them home. Yet, Jerusalem was not in our hands, and we again waited and prayed, with hopes unfailing, to see Jerusalem reunited with the newly born State. On the original Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) in 1967, we witnessed what we had been begging and pleading with God for from all corners of the earth, three times a day: Jerusalem in Jewish hands and the ability to access the Temple Mount after nearly 2,000 years.
COVID-19 restrictions have taught the entire world much about waiting. Perhaps we can put into practice these opportunities of thinking about what steps must take place before returning to our regular lives. We can identify—in a deeper way—with such an extreme sense of “waiting” … waiting for the sound of life in our streets again, waiting to linger over shared meals in one another’s homes, waiting to pray together in the synagogue, and come together in large groups to celebrate marriage and new life, waiting for the days when the silence will break.
In the last few weeks, my neighbor boys broke that unnatural silence in Jerusalem. With vigor and creativity, they have taken a strong charge of the time afforded them in these long days of distance learning void of extracurricular and sporting activities. These kids aren’t sitting in their home playing video games or watching TV like most; they are obsessed with collecting miscellaneous scraps of wood and bringing these remnants together into what is beginning to look more and more like a ship. It’s been a point of interest and conversation in our home, and their actions remind me of God’s promises to bring his people home and build up Jerusalem.
How appropriate it is that this week Jerusalemites will celebrate her reunification. We will be grateful that this day happened fifty-three years ago. I’m not sure how we will be able to honor this day, but I suspect that my neighbor boys will continue to tinker away on their building project. The pounding of their hammers makes me feel so grateful for our presence in the land. Their creativity and desire to build is a reminder that I, too, should be about the business of working to build up Jerusalem. Their hammer calls out: “Come on! Get busy rebuilding! And keep building!”
The noise of the cranes, the construction trucks, and the jackhammering of stone is truly a blessed noise. It means that the promises of HaShem are being fulfilled: “The LORD builds up Jerusalem.” This “essential” building screams in the face of these uncertain and weird times that Jerusalem will return to her former glory—no, she will even surpass her former glory:
There are moments on the road of destiny which inspire fanciful thoughts, perhaps even prophetic thought. I looked into the future, the promised future, when the State of Israel would become the kingdom of Israel, the kingdom of peace, the kingdom of God on earth with the Messiah ruling on the throne of David, and bringing peace to all the world. (From Pauline Rose’s eye-witness testimony of the 1967 Six-Day War, Window on Mount Zion, 115.)