Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,
After the Israelites suffered the great trauma of Jerusalem being attacked, the Temple destroyed, and our people exiled, the final books of the Hebrew Bible provided empathy, comfort, and a roadmap to restoration. Then and now, returning and rebuilding from exile is no easy task.
We have suffered together in exile: “By the waters of Babylon we laid down and wept as we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1).
We look to you to return us from exile: “Thus said Cyrus, ruler of Persia: ‘…let anyone of you go back to Jerusalem’” (Ezra 1:2-3).
We look to you to rebuild: Cyrus “shall say of Jerusalem: ‘She shall be rebuilt,’ and to the Temple: ‘You shall be founded again’” (Isaiah 44:28).
We will join you and return together: The “people came up from the captive exiles…who returned to Jerusalem and Judah” (Ezra 2:1).
We will join you and rebuild together: “We, God’s servants, will start building” (Nehemiah 2:20).
“Let us return and rebuild in joy as a new and better people.”
We pledge to care for those not prepared to return from exile: “All who stay behind…let the people of their place assist them” (Ezra 1:4).
And we mourn those who did not survive the exile: But “the memory of the righteous shall be for a blessing” (Proverbs 10:7).
We recognize that not all support rebuilding: “Thereupon the people of the land undermined the resolve of the Judeans and made them afraid to build” (Ezra 4:5).
Yet we are responsible to build for everyone: “For My House shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7).
We look to renew, to rebuild. Our materials are a vision of a better future and the memory of past pain and blessings: “Let us come back; renew our days as of old” (Lamentations 5:21).
There is memory. There is suffering. There is loss. Exile has been prolonged.
And yet together we can transform the shared experience of exile into the rebuilt foundations of that better future: “All the people raised a great shout extolling God because the foundation of the House of God had been laid.” (Ezra 3:11).
We entered exile in sorrow. Let us return and rebuild in joy as a new and better people.
Rabbi Matthew Kraus, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Judaic Studies
Head, Department of Judaic Studies
University of Cincinnati