By Debbie Mankowitz – written under the auspices of the Israel Forever Foundation*

Blue and white are historically associated with Jewish traditions, and the traditional Jewish prayer shawl, known as the tallit, is typically white with blue stripes or fringes (tzitzit). These fringes were G-d’s way of giving the people of Israel a tangible reminder to keep His commandments and remember His active presence, like a piece of string tied around your finger or a knot in your handkerchief. Also, when you wrap yourself in the tallit, often during prayer, it represents the embrace of G-d’s presence and protection.

The colors of the flag of the Nation and Land of Israel, blue and white, regarding the tallit’s stripes, serve as a unifying symbol for Israel’s diverse population, tied to Jewish heritage that represents the country’s landscape: the blue of the sky and the white of purity and peace. The Star of David (Magen David in Hebrew) in the center is a traditional symbol strongly associated with Judaism and Jewish identity. It is often considered a symbol of protection.

In Jewish history, several symbolic periods of darkness or tragic events have significantly impacted the Jewish community. These periods often represent moments of suffering, persecution, or tragedy, and these symbols that have stayed with us have taken on the extra layer as symbols of hope.

Some of the key symbolic periods of darkness in Jewish history include:

Destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE): The Babylonians, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and exiled many Jews to Babylonia. This event began a long period of exile and mourning known as the Babylonian Exile.

Destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE): The Romans, under the command of Titus, destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem, leading to widespread devastation and the dispersion of Jews across the Roman Empire. This event marked the beginning of the Jewish diaspora.

Expulsion from Spain (1492): The Alhambra Decree issued by King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I of Spain ordered the expulsion of all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity. This expulsion had a profound impact on Jewish communities, causing displacement and forcing many to flee their homeland.

Pogroms in Eastern Europe (late 19th and early 20th centuries): Jews in Eastern Europe faced violent persecution, particularly in Russia and surrounding regions, leading to pogroms—organized massacres and attacks targeting Jewish communities. These events resulted in significant loss of life and widespread fear among Jews.

The Holocaust (1930s-1945): The systematic genocide of six million Jews by the Nazis during World War II represents one of the darkest chapters in Jewish history. The Holocaust led to the extermination of millions of Jews in concentration camps and profoundly affected Jewish communities worldwide.

Yom Kippur War (1973): October 6th, 1973, marked the beginning of the Yom Kippur War, also known as the October War or the Ramadan War, which lasted until October 25th and had a profound impact on the region. The war began on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel. 

October 7th will now hold in Jewish memory a significant reminder of the importance of national consciousness first, brotherhood foremost, and become consequently part of the annals of historical and national significance for generations.  

On October 7th, 2023, thousands of armed Hamas terrorists tore down large parts of the Gaza security fence using tractors, RPGs, and explosives and invaded southern Israel. Simultaneously, Hamas terrorists in Gaza fired thousands of rockets toward Israel.

 

At least 3000 terrorists successfully broke through the fence in vehicles and on foot. This figure does not include the hundreds of ordinary Gazans who participated in this mass infiltration into Southern Israel. Some used motorized paragliders to fly over the fence, and others attempted to invade through the sea, aiming for Israel’s Zikim Beach.

The terrorists split up and made their way to several Israeli towns and IDF bases surrounding Gaza. That is when the massacre began. They invaded the villages, shooting everything in sight. They broke into civilian homes, shooting, burning, raping, beheading, and murdering over 1,400 civilians and abducting over 240 civilians. Hamas terrorists briefly took control of about 10 Israeli towns, terrorizing and brutalizing their residents.

Simultaneously, additional terrorists drove on to the Nova Music Festival, which took place in a nearby open area outside of Re’im. Partygoers were waking up to the sound of sirens and attempting to evacuate due to the threat of rockets. Many of them did not reach safety. The terrorists fired indiscriminately at the thousands of civilians who came from all over the world to celebrate peace through music. Later, 260 defiled and mutilated bodies were found in the area of the festival, most of them belonging to young men and women.

IDF forces operated to neutralize the terrorists and thwart their infiltration; however, the terrorists were also ambushing IDF bases, killing soldiers, and hurling grenades and explosives. 

The State of Israel has never encountered such a large-scale, calculated attack on the Gaza front. When forces were able to regain control of the towns, the soldiers and first responders at the scene encountered grotesque sights of Hamas’ horrific and gratuitous violence not seen or experienced in modern Jewish history since the Holocaust.

October 7th will forever be remembered as a dark day in Israel’s history and in humanity’s history. A horrifically vivid and unconscionable reminder that there are humans capable of committing utterly inhumane things.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, known as the Hafetz Haim (the “Desirer of Life” in Hebrew), lived from 1838 to 1933. He passed away on the 24th of Elul in the Hebrew calendar, often falling around October. He was a renowned rabbi, revered for his teachings on Jewish ethics and proper speech. What were the Hafetz Haim’s teachings?

What is interesting here is that one of the discerning factors for the destruction of the Temple was the disunity between the Jews themselves, called Sinnat Hinnam or baseless hatred. The Talmud tells us not only that it is forbidden but also that it is seriously destructive. 

The Talmud (Yoma 9b) discusses the reasons for the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem.  It differentiates between the causes of the first destruction and those of the second:

Why was the First Temple destroyed? Three things prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed. However, why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that they occupied themselves with the Torah, mitzvot, and acts of kindness in that time? Because baseless hatred prevailed. This injunction teaches one that baseless hatred is equal to the three sins of idolatry, illicit relations, and murder. The severity of sinat chinnam is evident: even a generation of charitable scholars can be punished for this sin, and it is considered as grave as the three cardinal sins combined (Binyamin, 2016).

 

Hence, some of the core teachings associated with the Hafetz Haim include:

Lashon Hara (Evil Speech): The Hafetz Haim emphasized prohibiting speaking negatively about others. He stressed the importance of guarding one’s tongue and refraining from gossip, slander, and harmful speech.

Ahavat Yisrael (Love for fellow Jews): He encouraged unity and love among Jewish people. He taught that displaying love and kindness towards others, regardless of differences, was fundamental to Jewish life.

Ethical Living: His teachings focused on living an ethical and righteous life according to Jewish law (halakha). He emphasized the importance of honesty, integrity, and fulfilling moral obligations.

The teachings of the Hafetz Haim encouraged individuals to engage in self-reflection, repentance, and continuous self-improvement. The Hafetz Haim emphasized the significance of striving for personal growth and returning to a path of righteousness. At a difficult time in Israel’s history, the Hafetz Haim’s teachings continue to influence Jewish thought and ethics, serving as a guide for many on how to live a moral and spiritually enriched life within the framework of Jewish tradition.

Consummate with this, the ability to read and interpret religious texts and teachings has been a source of identity, literacy, strength, and empowerment for Jewish communities throughout history.

Symbolically, Jewish history is rich with moments of light, resilience, and significance. One can take enormous lessons from the teachings of the Hafetz Haim, especially regarding the gratuitous reactions in thought and deed against one another in the period preceding October 7th and the tremendous outpouring of love, kindness, and tzedakah afterward.

Here are a few light-filled salient moments that are often considered pivotal in Jewish history:

Exodus from Egypt: The story of the Exodus, led by Moses, marks the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. This event is central to Jewish identity and is celebrated annually during Passover.

Receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai: According to Jewish tradition, the Jewish people (the Israelites) received the Torah, including the Ten Commandments, at Mount Sinai, signifying the covenant between God and the Jewish people and celebrated during the holiday of Shavuot.

Building of the First Temple: King Solomon built the First Temple in Jerusalem, which became the center of Jewish worship. This structure held immense religious and historical significance for the Jewish people.

The Maccabean Revolt: Hanukkah’s story commemorates the Maccabees’ victory against the oppressive Seleucid Empire with the rededication of the Second Temple and the miracle of the oil lasting eight days.

The Golden Age of Spain: During the Middle Ages, Spain was a hub of Jewish intellectual, cultural, and scientific achievement. Jewish scholars made significant contributions in various fields, including philosophy, medicine, poetry, and mathematics.

The Enlightenment Period: Jewish communities in Western Europe experienced a period of emancipation and integration during the Enlightenment. This increased opportunities for Jews in various spheres of society and paved the way for Jewish participation in modernity.

The Re-establishment of Israel:  Our Jewish faith facilitated the triumph of the Jewish nation in our struggle for independence in the one ancient homeland to which we are biblically bound. In 1948, the State of Israel was re-established, providing a homeland for the Jewish people after centuries of dispersion and persecution and considered a momentous achievement in Jewish history.

Notwithstanding these periods of enlightenment and rebirth, throughout history, 

Jews have made substantial contributions to society in various fields, including science, literature, arts, politics, and more. Individuals like Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, and countless others have left a lasting impact on humanity.

These moments, among others, showcase the resilience, courage, cultural richness, and significant contributions of the Jewish people throughout history. 

 

Sources:  

Jacobs, L., Rabbi. (2023). My Jewish Learning. (SAGES & SCHOLARS). Who was the Chofetz Chayyim

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-hafetz-hayyim/

Zimmerman. B., Rabbi.  (2016). Bein Adam Le-chavero: Ethics of Interpersonal Conduct-Lesson 46

Sinat Chinnam and the Destruction of the Temple

https://www.etzion.org.il/en/philosophy/issues-jewish-thought/issues-mussar-and-faith/sinat-chinnam-and-destruction-temple

 

*The Israel Forever Foundation bridges the geographical gap, engaging you in enlightening, experiential, and apolitical learning and activism to enhance your connection with Israel and to connect you with others who share that connection in a meaningful way. The Foundation maintains offices in Washington, DC, and Jerusalem.

Debbie Mankowitz (Public Relations-PRISA|BA Com-UNISA|BA Hons Psych-UNISA| MA Psych-UNISA) is a Middle East researcher and has worked as an Israel Advocacy Media spokesperson, political and business Editor, and Writer since 2000.