Tisha B'Av, A Holiday To Mourn The Past: A Message From Our President & CEO

Tisha B’Av, which was yesterday, is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. Celebrated on the ninth day of the month of Av, we fast, mourn, deprive ourselves, and pray. It marks the destruction of Jerusalem’s two Temples – the First Temple was burned by the Babylonians in 423 BCE and the Second Temple fell to the Romans in 70 CE. Later in our history, many more tragedies happened on this day including the 1290 expulsion of England’s Jews and the 1492 banishment of all Jews from Spain.

It’s odd, but I never knew much about this day of mourning. According to Rabbi Hauptman, a professor of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary, "this holiday gives Jews the opportunity to mourn for the past and the many tragedies of the Jewish people. Tisha B’Av is kind of a collective shiva.”

This year, given the rise in antisemitism, the attacks on Jews at a Chanukah party in New York, murders at a New Jersey kosher market, the attack on Yom Kippur at a synagogue in Halle, Germany, and the hateful desecration of two synagogues in Florida, we have much to grieve. It might be hard for some to get in the mournful mindset of this day, but the isolation and sadness we feel due to the pandemic and the divisiveness and hate present in our country made this mood easier to achieve this year.

On the eve of Tisha B’Av, we sit on the floor and read from Lamentations asking, Eichah, "How?" How is it that antisemitism persists? How did G-d destroy the Temple and let us suffer? Rabbi Soloveitchik contends that “when we don’t take personal responsibility for our problems and blame others, we will ultimately find ourselves asking Eichah, how could it be?”

A Midrash expert, Rabbi Burt Visotzky, contends that the answer to “How?” has do with the fact that the Jews bear significant responsibility because instead of uniting against the Roman army in the Second Temple days, “we instead argued among ourselves, even killed each other. Sinat chinam, translated as ”baseless hate,” was our downfall.” Unfortunately, we still see some of this behavior today among us.

Given the sadness of this day, I appreciated the article by Rabbi Efram Goldberg focusing on turning mourning into action. In discussing Rabbi Soloveitchik’s commentary on, “Where are you? Are you taking responsibility?” he contends that we must stay vigilant in fighting antisemitism even if we are not able to understand why it exists. He states, “we must remain strong in standing up for Jews everywhere. We must confront evil and do all we can to defeat it. And, we must do all that we can to take personal responsibility to fulfill the Jewish mission to bring Godliness into the world.”

Memory is important. We, as Jews, tell our story from one generation to another – we read the Megillah, tell the Passover story, commemorate Yom HaShoah - however, it is equally important that we heal our people and repair the world. This is done through taking action.

We need to find ways to talk to each other rather than shut each other out. We need to build bridges between us, we need to be more accepting. Rabbi Jason Rosner, Temple Beth Israel in Highland Park, states, “we’re battling to save our society and equitably restructure our entire way of life against a backdrop of outrage, fatigue and uncertainty. Emotional conversations are what we need in order to find hope. Tisha B’Av gives us a model of how to have such conversations.”

At the end of this day of sadness, we read the Haftorah where the prophet Isaiah proclaims, “For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the tree of the field shall clap their hands." Even when all seems lost, G-d is with us, guiding us and giving us hope. Let’s not only mourn as a community but also celebrate, as “even in this most mournful day, we must serve G-d with joy.”

Let’s walk, communicate, and act on behalf of others as a guiding light unto the nations and set the example to bring our community together in dialogue, support and collaboration.