by: Ilse Strauss, News Bureau Chief
Nearly 4,000 years ago, a Hebrew boy turned slave turned second-in-command of Egypt came face-to-face with the architects of the evil that tore him from everything he’d known. Facing the brothers who had sold him into slavery, Joseph could have lamented the loss or rehashed the heartbreak. Instead, Israel’s favorite son rejoiced in the blessing that flowed from the tragedy. “You meant evil against me,” he conceded, “but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).
Today, the shadow of heartbreak still hovers over Joseph’s progeny. The Jewish state has a history so tragic it warrants three annual days of mourning. Evil lies in wait on and within Israel’s borders, lashing out with unnerving frequency to sow more suffering. Yet instead of succumbing to the evil committed against them, Israelis have the extraordinary ability to seek out rays of light in the darkest pit and bring blessing from what seems like a curse.
Dov Kalmanovich was on his way home when a 14-year-old Palestinian lobbed a Molotov cocktail through the windshield of his car, setting both vehicle and driver alight.
By the time the flames were extinguished, melted skin and seared flesh covered 75% of his body. With one flick of a Palestinian teenager’s arm, Kalmanovich went from heading home for dinner to facing life with a 263% disability rating.
Kalmanovich opted to pursue the light in the seemingly senseless tragedy. “I decided to survive,” he told Israel National News, “and not just to live, but to live in order to serve…”
That he did. Kalmanovich became the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, led the team that rebuilt the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Old City and often stands at the bedside of terror victims as a living testimony that evil doesn’t have the last word.
The Palestinian lobbing the Molotov cocktail at Kalmanovich wanted to kill a Jew, he shared. Kalmanovich didn’t only emerge alive, he also brought more Jewish lives into the world. And every morning at breakfast, Kalmanovich’s children look at their father’s scarred face and start their day knowing: darkness doesn’t win; light does.
Kalmanovich’s story is inspiring, but not unique. There’s the tale of the bride inviting the nation to her wedding two weeks after her father and brother were murdered in a terror attack—pledging to dance instead of mourn and sing instead of cry. There’s the account of an aged survivor of the Munich Massacre returning to the city of his nightmares to belt out Am Yisrael Chai (“the nation of Israel lives”) as a lone figure in a public square. And a father, days after burying his firstborn—a three-day-old boy born prematurely and too weak to cling to life after his pregnant mother was shot in a terror attack—praising God for the life of his son.
Testimonies like these raise the question: what is the secret to Israel’s ability to choose light in the perpetual onslaught of darkness?
The Jewish people see the world from a foundation that God is One, explains Rabbi Jeremy Gimpel, founder of The Land of Israel Fellowship and Arugot Farm. God’s Oneness entails that He is the source of all things: the Author of what we see as good, what we perceive as devastating—and everything else in between.
“Everything that happens is from Him and ultimately for good, even if we don’t understand it at the time,” Gimpel says. “And if everything comes from Him, it means there’s light in everything.”
“When a crisis hits, we know there’s purpose in the hardship,” he continues. If God brought the pain, there’s something to find or go through, something to mold or strengthen us. We look at a tragedy and know there’s light hidden somewhere inside.”
The presence of evil, he holds, often thrusts the polar opposite—good—into the spotlight. “In the face of heartbreak, we unlock what it means to be a Jew, to stand for compassion, love and truth. We’re meant to be a light unto the nations, and if we do our job, we’ll expose the light through the evil done unto us.”
This worldview is particularly pertinent when a loved one passes away—especially in a violent act, Gimpel explains. “We respond by asking how we can turn the tragedy into a blessing. How can we find meaning in this pain beyond ourselves, beyond merely surviving? How can we reach out and encourage the person next to us?”
In Israel, it is common to dedicate everything from public squares to parks, sporting facilities and even communities to the memory of someone who passed away—often in a terror attack. The practice is about more than a memorial, Gimpel explains. It’s a practical expression of Israel’s blessing-from-calamity worldview.
“Our impact is not limited to the years we spend on this earth. We continue to influence and hopefully bless long after we’re no longer here. Also, if someone passes away and an action is taken in this world in their memory, they continue to bless, even though they’re no longer in this world.”
Eighteen-year-old Ezra Schwartz, an American spending a gap year in Israel, had big plans for the future. He would make aliyah (immigrate to Israel), serve in the military and establish his life as a blessing to Israel and her people. A Palestinian terrorist put a quick end to those plans.
Five years after his murder, jubilant Israeli teens gathered to watch Israel’s Olympic baseball team inaugurate “A Field for Ezra,” the third-ever baseball field in Israel—built in memory of the terror victim who “loved to play baseball.”
“I can’t imagine Ezra’s life without baseball,” his father said, “and I can’t imagine growing up and not having a field to play on. Now these boys and girls in Israel will have that.”
The field isn’t the only way Schwartz continues to bless Israel—even after his death.
Four years ago, the Wilderness of Ziph—where David hid from Saul and poured out his heart in psalms—was nothing but barren hilltops and dust-swept valleys. Today, a patchwork of terraced orchards, silvery olive groves and emerald grape arbors have transformed the desolate heights into a Garden of Eden. The lush oasis was planted in honor of the young man “who planned to make aliyah, who wanted to make an impact and bless this land. Even though he was taken from us, he’s fulfilling that mission,” Gimpel explains.
When the dark clouds descend, Israel’s ability to look for light in the darkness and blessing in calamity does not attempt to negate the tragedy, defang the searing grief or deny the pain. It simply acknowledges that God is in everything—even in the darkness. And because of God, the tragedy can, will, must bring forth life.
Photo Credit: shutterstock.com
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