As an American child, when I first saw “Fiddler on the Roof” I thought it was a frivolous musical about things that happened to Jews once upon a time. As a grown-up Israeli I know better.
Reading the news about the wedding of Sarah Techiya Litman and Ariel Beigel this Thursday, two weeks after Sarah’s father and brother were murdered by terrorists I kept hearing in my head the song from “Fiddler on the Roof”: “Drink lechaim, to life!”
Going back to the song and listening to the words was chilling. For how many centuries will this be the reality of the Jewish people?
“May all your futures be pleasant ones, not like our present ones! Drink lechaim, to life! It takes a wedding to say, let’s live another day. Drink lechaim, to life!”
The precariousness of being a Jew has not changed. Neither has the hope for a better future. There is a reason the Jewish drinking salute is “Lechaim! To life!” There is no bigger triumph.
As it says in the Passover Hagadah: “In every generation enemies rise up against us, to exterminate us and each time God saves us.” This is our reality. The wedding of Sarah and Ariel was the essence of this.
Right before her wedding Sarah got the news that her father and brother had been murdered. How could she get married without them? How could she stand under the wedding chuppah (Jewish traditional canopy) without her father by her side? How could she celebrate knowing her brother was dead? In Jewish tradition the mourning rituals for the death of a parent are particularly severe out of the deep respect held for parents. Religious people abstain from all celebrations for an entire year, don’t go to parties, don’t attend events, don’t buy new clothes etc.
But it is also forbidden to cancel a wedding.
The Jewish wedding is not only a milestone in the life of the couple, a first step in building a new family – it is a promise to continue the Jewish people. It is a promise to live, to triumph over our would-be exterminators.
The wedding was postponed for 9 days, enough time to hold the shivah, the seven days ritual mourning and reschedule the event. The couple sent out an announcement inviting the entire Nation of Israel to participate in their wedding, preceded by the phrase – “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy, for I have fallen but I have gotten up” (Michah 7:8).
“It takes a wedding to make us say, let’s live another day”. What a horribly appropriate sentence.
The death of a loved one rips a hole in your soul. Murder makes it ten thousand times worse and murder simply because they are who they are, Jewish, intensifies the pain even more. It takes extreme strength of spirit to pull yourself together after such an event but what this couple did was even more than that – they pulled together a Nation.
Ours is a harsh reality. There is no fuzzy pink buffer to the knowledge that each and every one of us is a target simply because we are Jewish. Small children understand that there are people who want them dead because they were born Jewish and Israeli. In this reality we grow, and to the annoyance of our haters – we prosper.
Sarah and Ariel’s wedding was held in the biggest place available in Jerusalem and still there was not enough room for all their well-wishers. Thousands came. Of course!! The people of Israel responded to the invitation, to add joy to the celebration of this young couple. To rejoice even after our enemies did everything possible to cause despair. To rejoice, especially after so much was done to cause despair.
This is what triumph looks like.
Lechaim! To life!