Who Really Cries on Tisha B’Av?
By Andrew Getraer
Executive Director, Rutgers Hillel
Tonight begins the Jewish holyday of Tisha B’Av. For over 2,500 years it has been the national Memorial Day of the Jewish People, our Yom Hazikaron, Day of Remembrance. On it we recall the myriad tragedies that have befallen our people, particularly those that occurred on this very date, the 9th of Av.
It was on this date in 1312 BCE that the Children of Israel, wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt, were forbidden to enter the Land of Israel for a generation.
It was on this date in 586 BCE that the First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. 100,000 Jews were killed and many more exiled.
It was on this date in 70 CE that the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. Two million Jews died and another million exiled.
It was on this date in 135 CE that the Bar Kochba Revolt was crushed by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The city of Betar – the Jews’ last stand against the Romans – was captured and over 100,000 Jews were slaughtered.
The Romans were determined to destroy not just the Jewish state and the Jewish people, but the Jewish memory. Their goal was to cut off all Jewish connection to our ancient homeland. So they renamed Jerusalem ‘Aelia Capitolina’ and forbid Jews to enter. They changed the name of the entire country from Judea – where the word “Jew” comes from – to ‘Palestina’, the source of the modern name Palestine.
It was from this moment on that Jewish sovereignty over our land ended, not to be regained for another 2,000 years, until the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.
Other tragedies occurred on this date throughout Jewish history, including the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492; the declaration of war by Germany in 1914 which began WWI and led to WWII and the Holocaust; and the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to the death camps in 1942.
Traditionally on Tisha B’Av we fast for 25 hours. We are meant to cry over the destruction of the Temples. I do fast, but who among us truly cries over the Temple? I try to get a sense of the immeasurable loss. The loss of Jewish lives, of the Temple’s connection to G-d, of sovereignty and homeland. But it’s so distant, so hard to truly feel or understand.
But not this year. This year I can begin to understand what it might have meant to see the Jewish homeland destroyed, our people murdered and exiled. Because, right now, as you are reading this, there are forces in the world for whom that is exactly their goal.
Israel is currently fighting a war with Hamas, a fanatical organization who openly in their charter, in videos and speeches, calls for the destruction of the entire Jewish state and murder of the entire Jewish people. They are only one of numerous groups with the same ultimate goal: ISIS, al Qaeda, Boko Horom, Hezbollah, and others. These groups have armies, some larger than many nations. They control territory, they posses enormous wealth. Much like the Babylonians and the Romans, they aspire to a global empire.
These jihadi armies have supporters across the world. This summer we have seen anti-Semitic violence and demonstrations in most major cities, with the jihadi flag of ISIS flying in the streets of Paris and Brussels. Jewish businesses have been firebombed and Jews assaulted in the streets. The chant of “Jews to the Gas!” is ringing out in the streets of Europe for the first time in 70 years. In much of the world being openly Jewish is no longer safe. It’s almost unfathomable.
Thank G-d, we live in America, where recent polls tell us Jews are the most popular group in the country. But what of our brothers and sisters everywhere else? What of our brothers and sisters living in the only Jewish State in the world?
This Tisha B’av, I begin to understand the destruction of our ancestors in a whole new way. I will fast and pray with a greater sense of devotion and purpose than ever before, and I hope that you will, as well.
But as we head into Tisha B’Av, it is also vital to remember an incredible, hopeful tradition of our People: On this date the Messiah/Moshiach will be born and the redemption of the world in peace and justice will begin. Amen.
Wishing you a meaningful fast.