Miriam Peretz speaking at the World Orthodox Israel Congress last year.

Building this Land Together

BY MIRIAM PERETZ

 

Following Yom HaAtzmaut 5783, World Mizrachi hosted the inaugural World Orthodox Israel Congress. Miriam Peretz, an Israel Prize Winner whose two sons fell serving in the IDF, gave a keynote plenary opening the Congress. While so much has happened in the past year, the words of Miriam Peretz ring as true as ever today.

To come here, after Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut, is not simple. These are days that weigh heavily on the families of fallen soldiers. You need time to process. There is no button that can just be pressed that ends Yom HaZikaron and suddenly we become happy. So, how do we do it? How do we continue? 

I think about a piyut that we read on Rosh Hashanah, it is read by Jews from Morocco or Tunisia. The piyut is called The Time of the Gates of Desire (Eit Sha’arei Ratzon), and it is read before the blasts of the shofar. The piyut describes Akeidat Yitzchak, but includes this sentence: “The eyes weep in bitterness, and the heart is happy.” Am Yisrael is like that: the eyes weep in bitterness on Yom HaZikaron, but the heart rejoices for what we have on Yom HaAtzmaut. This is our nation. We are a people that knows how to mark the Holocaust, but also the revival that follows it. Destruction and rebuilding. We never leave behind the broken stones; instead, we pick up and gather the broken pieces and build a new building. And the biggest building that we have built is here. 

Seventy five years ago, our fathers and mothers in Iraq, Poland, Germany, Tunisia, Italy, and everywhere in the world, had the same dream. The dream was one word: “Yerushalayim.” Yerushalayim is a code. It is the home of the freedom of a Jew. We thank Hashem that we are able to come to Yerushalayim, that we came home. We build buildings (sometimes too many buildings, it feels like we are becoming one big concrete jungle!) but we still need to build the most important building: the spiritual building. And who will do this? Mizrachi. Rav Doron (Perez), you have no idea what kind of influence you have on this building of the spirit of Am Yisrael

What is the spirit of Am Yisrael?

My son Eliraz had long peyot and wore a big kippah. He was a commander in the army, second-in-command of Golani’s 12th battalion. But when he returned from fighting, he never went straight back home, even if his family hadn’t seen him in a month. He could have been in Lebanon or Jenin for a month, but he would not go to his house. Instead, he would first go to the beit midrash. Why? In order to receive the spirit of our nation. Because with this spirit, it is impossible to break the nation of Israel. The resilience of the nation of Israel does not depend on the amount of tanks we have. It depends on our spirit. The spirit of the Jewish people, the spirit of the pilots, tank drivers, and the citizens of the country – it is about this spirit that we fight for today, for this spirit to continue. 

We came here and built it together. We brought our heritage and culture from all across the world. This is not at all normal. Am Yisrael is different from all other nations. When we left Egypt, it wasn’t only Ashkenazim or Moroccan Jews. Twelve tribes left Egypt, and each of them had a different flag. But what did they all have in common? When everyone held up their flagpoles, the one thing in the middle was the Mishkan. The spirit was in the middle, it united them. We continue with that spirit today. We also have our differences, which is fine. The biggest challenge we have today is living with others who are different, with respect for one another, recognizing the other. The Torah is not only found in me. When we pray, at the end of the Amidah we say “עוֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרוֹמָיו, He who makes peace in the heavens.” And what do we do when we say this? We take three steps backwards. You must move a little, in order to give space for another person. In order to listen to another person.

This land is not just the land of the Jews in Israel. This is the homeland of all Jews around the world! This is everyone’s homeland. There is a responsibility on all of us, you and I, to protect this Land. It is not just my responsibility, or my sons who fought in the army. They did not fight only for the citizens of the State of Israel – they fought for you as well. So that one day, when you want to come home, someone will have protected this home and have paid such a heavy price to keep this Land for all of us. 

In the prophecy of Yeshayahu, he talked about what will be in the future, about peace: “And the wolf will live with the lamb” (11:6). He did not say that the wolf would become a lamb. He did not say that the religious will become non-religious, that the left-wing will become right-wing. He did not say this. The most important words he said, in my eyes, are “will live with.” To live together from a multitude of countries with all the differing opinions. Men and women, religious and non-religious, left-wing and right-wing, everyone. We need to learn to live together. And I want to tell you, that when I see you here, I see this unity. You are with us. Mizrachi sent you on Yom HaZikaron to the homes of bereaved families. You came to be with us on Yom HaZikaron, including in my home as well, there were people who came to sit with us. To feel, to be with us.

I feel that you are my brothers and sisters. When my children fought in battle, they protEcted our home. They didn’t check who lives in the home, whether the people living there are religious or right-wing. They fought for our home. They left to fight together, and their common goal was: to win and to return home safely. When they call each other, they don’t say “Ya’akov” or “Shmuel.” They call each other “achi, my brother” – always brothers. 

In times of hardship we do not lose the DNA of the Jewish people, our mutual guarantee of responsibility for one another (arvut hadadit). I know that if I fell in the street, the person who would say “you are not my sister” would be the first to pick me up, because it is in our soul. 

I am not a person who falls into despair; we have no right to despair. Am Yisrael is a nation that falls and gets back up. Am Yisrael is a nation that breaks apart but then rebuilds.

There are challenges along the way. I will never understand why HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave me this difficult test. I have a choice: I could choose to stay in bed and cry and accuse. But I have another choice: “choose life,” to continue to live. Why? Because on Yom HaZikaron we say that “they command us to live.” They did not fall for me not to live; they fell so we can continue to live here. 

Everyone just wants to be deserving of their love for this Land, their sense of brotherhood, of friendship, to the spirit between them. I feel this is the spirit that you are cultivating here, and we stand united – not just at this moment, but we are always united. Blessed are the people whom these are their children. May there be better days and good news for all of Am Yisrael

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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