This week, I was delighted that a new partnership with Temple Beth Tikvah and Emanu-El resulted in a spirited, meaningful Tisha B’av observance where we read Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, together.
While I am proud that as a result of this partnership, and a push on our part, our attendance dramatically increased from our previous year, each year I take note that the overwhelming majority of Jews do not mark this fast day, which historically commemorates the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. In fact, there are also those who make the contrary theological argument: now that we have a State of Israel, with a reunited Jerusalem, that the day should be abolished. Why should we, after all, continue to observe a holiday that is anachronistic?
Each year as I sit and ponder this question on Tisha B’av, I remind myself of three ways that Tisha B’av remains relevant to me:
1. Our tendency to take Israel for granted. Yes, it is a true blessing that we live in a time with a state of Israel and a reunited Jerusalem. Yet most of us take for granted that for the vast majority of Jewish history, this was not a reality. As Israel approaches 70, even fewer Jews will be able to fathom what the existence of a world without a Jewish state. We know from studies that feelings of disconnect and detachment from Israel only continue to increase. Observing Tisha B’av reminds me that Israel’s existence remains a precious gift.
2. Tisha B’av as a day of universal Jewish tragedy. Yom Kippur may be a solemn fast day, but it is hardly tragic. Tisha B’av is the opposite. It is a tragic day on which our rabbis note that several tragedies befell the Jewish people throughout our history. The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed on the ninth of Av. The Jews were expelled from England in the thirteenth century on Tisha B’av. The Spanish Inquisition and the Warsaw Ghetto Liquidation began on Tisha B’av.
History hasn’t always been kind to the Jews. Observing Tisha B’av reminds me how fortunate I am to be living as a Jew in a free country at this point in history.
3. Tisha B’av as an opportunity for us to dream of a better world. As if observance of the holiday weren’t enough of a paradox, the rabbis present us with another possibility: that the Messiah will be born on the ninth of Av. Each year, I commemorate the holiday, I remember that from tragedy sprouts forth possibility. Rather than laying in wait, Tisha B’av moves me to go out and make a difference.