As Shabbat quietly creeps into Jerusalem, we are almost at the climax of these Nine Days of Jewish mourning and disaster - nine days that complete the Three Weeks of Jewish mourning for many horrific events that have fallen upon the Jewish people across the ages. From Saturday night, we shall fast for Tisha B'Av - a time to contemplate, pray and for soul searching.
The Disengagement was delayed some time ago to allow for the Three Weeks to pass before beginning this painful operation. Yet, the irony of the timing (one day after Tisha B'Av) is not lost and many people see an inherent message and meaning in the date that is D-Day.
As I walked home from work in central Jerusalem on Wednesday, it was fairly obvious that something big and orange was going on. I had never seen anything like it - hundreds of private coaches and thousands of pedestrians travelling towards the Old City walls on their way to Judaism's holy site. The media says 70000 attended that last gasp appeal to the heavens. People I know who were there report the crowds flowing out as far as Dung Gate, also up the stairs towards Aish HaTorah and further up the road that leads up to the Jewish Quarter car park. There really was probably many more than 70000.
Tel Aviv turned orange last night too with what the media reports was 150000 people and orange supporters say was closer to 300000 in strong voice at Kikar Rabin. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
Accurate numbers are not that important anymore. What these two very large protests signify however, is how great the country's opinion split actually is. Such large and powerful demonstrations of opposition do not appear every day. I was at the 300000-person "Jerusalem as One" protest in 2000 when Barak placed the city on the table at Camp David. Barak went on to be removed from office. The sight of two large protests within two days, about a little area called Gaza would suggest that Sharon will require the luck of the brave come the week ahead and the weeks and months to follow.
When a nation is so split and so torn, a leader of quality is required. On Wednesday night, President Katsav tried to fill those shoes. In Katsav's speech, he did what very few of our leaders have bothered to do up till now. Simply, he sympathized with the Gush Katif residents, he asked forgiveness and he praised their Zionist ideals. At the same time, he demanded tolerance, non-violence and respect for the law.
I heard some say this was a very cynical speech. I disagree. It was an honest and bridge-building expression of a man who spoke from the heart and addressed the people and the issues respectfully and with emotion. The Jerusalem Post agrees.
When I next post to the KICblog, it appears the initial stages of the Disengagement will be underway. Notwithstanding Bush's latest assurances of how good this pullout will be for Israel, we are in for a Tisha B'Av that will not fade from our collective memory easily.
But like we refrain from trying to interpret "why the Shoah happened" when we stand just 60 years after that murderous era, so now is not the time to add Disengagement to the list of disasters that befell the Jewish people in the month of Av. Similarly, we must avoid claiming the opposite - that it is not following the Av line of tragedies. No one knows the thoughts of the Almighty and we must not attempt to represent His thoughts. Only in time will we understand, one way or the other.
Wherever you stand on the political sidewalk, I ask you to acknowledge the pain and distress that many feel at this time. Brothers must remain brothers and support each other even when they disagree. (In that way, I am always heartened to see "We love Tzahal" banners at the orange protest events and to see people with orange and blue ribbons on their cars).
We know so well how great the challenges are that await us post-Disengagement. When the orange and blue ribbons are packed away for another day, we will need to stand united against common foes and challenges once again - whether they be Arab terrorism, assimilation, poverty or the grand task of continuing the success of the Jewish people who have returned home, after that day of Israel's destruction, in the month of Av, two thousand years ago.