Rabbi Ira Youdovin: Now It’s Our Turn

On the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av in the year 586 BCE, the prophet Jeremiah sat somewhere in Jerusalem watching his beloved city go up in flames.  Overcome with grief, he wrote words preserved in the biblical Book of Lamentations:

“Lonely sits the city
Once great with people…Bitterly she weeps in the night,
Her cheek wet with tears.
There is none to offer comfort”

The catastrophe of 586 BCE was by no means unexpected.  Tensions with the invading Babylonians had been building to the point where destruction and exile had become inevitable, just as Jeremiah had prophesied. He, himself, was incarcerated and then exiled to Egypt, where he died.  But amidst the turmoil and suffering, he managed to purchase a piece of land in Anatoth, the neighboring village where he was born, in order to demonstrate his unshakeable belief in a better future.  Today, some 2500 years later,  the purchase remains a symbol of Jewish optimism.

Jeremiah’s iconic act came to mind yesterday when I opened a congregational e-mail* from our rabbi announcing “Building Dreams”, an ambitious and exciting project to renovate and expand our campus.  Congregations launch building projects all the time.  But few have the commitment—some would say “divine chutzpah”— to do so during a pandemic.  But how many folks would have Jeremiah’s strength of faith to purchase land already seized by an invading army?

I don’t mean to draw a tight analogy between our situation and Jeremiah’s. He was experiencing the horrific fall of Judea and the start of the Babylonian exile. Our suffering in the current pandemic, while assuredly painful, is of a different order.

But one similarity stands out.   Both Jeremiah’s land purchase and CBB’s Building Dreams are profound expressions of Judaism’s abiding commitment to optimism even when an objective assessment of context may argue for pessimism.  Initiating a major renovation/expansion project in the midst of a pandemic may strike some as being a bissel meshuggah.  It probably is.  But many, perhaps most, landmark undertakings throughout Jewish history were a little nuts.  That’s how we not only survive but thrive in times of adversity.

It’s now our turn to join this age-old march.

As the great Rabbi Hillel put it: “If not now, when?!”
*An email went out to CBB members this week introducing a big dream for renewing the CBB campus. -Ed.