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July 28, 2009July 28, 2009  0 comments  Jewish Holidays

For those of you who will in Israel on the 9th of Av, (beginning on the evening of July 29th and continuing for 24 hours), you might want to know how this unique holiday will be observed in the land of Israel. Perhaps the most prominent observance of the holiday can be noticed in Jerusalem where countless congregations begin their evening prayers at the Haas promenade in southern Jerusalem. From this unique location, you can see the old city, the Ottoman walls built in the mid 16th century, and a faint outline of the city of David created by King David and his son, King Solomon close to three thousand years ago. From this location, you will also be able to see remnants of the second temple built by Herod approximately two thousand years ago. The view, especially at night is breathtaking, dramatic and full of hope.

 

On the 9th of Av Jews observe the anniversaries of the destruction of the first and second temple, both of which resulted in exile, destruction and massive loss of life. It is one of the saddest days on the Jewish calendar. It is not surprising then, that congregations like to go to the Haas promenade to look at the ancient city of Jerusalem and contemplate these terrible moments of destruction. As we gaze upon the flickering lights of the old city and the new city of Jerusalem, we read from the book of Lamentations the following: "Alas! Lonely sits the city once great with people! She that was great among nations is become like a widow...bitterly she weeps in the night, her cheek wet with tears. There is nobody to comfort her..."  (Lamentations, Chapter 1:1-2)

 

As we listen to the lament of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in the year 586 BCE, I am always struck by the contrast between what was and what is. Almost 2600 years ago, Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jewish people were exiled to Babylonia ("By the rivers of  Babylon, there we sat, sat and wept, as we remembered Zion..."Psalm 137:1). Almost 2000 years ago the Romans brutally took advantage of Jewish disunity and destroyed one of the wonders of the world, the temple that was built by Herod. And today, as we look at the old city of Jerusalem, remembering those moments of destruction, I am filled with joy.

 

Why? When I read Lamentations, the first word is "Alas." I can't quite understand that word and therefore I prefer the Hebrew, which in some texts says ‘oy' and in others says ‘woe.' Nobody ever sat around after the destruction and said ‘alas!' The language was much stronger. And today, as we are in Israel during the 61st year of the 3rd Jewish commonwealth, while I do think about the destruction, the ‘oy', my oy has turned to joy.

 

In the 21st century, Israel is a sovereign nation, in control of its destiny, with its capital here in the holy city of Jerusalem. I mourn for what was lost, but I also am filled with joy at what we have achieved. The ninth of Av for me is a mixed bag. I am compelled to remember the past and what was lost, but my focus must be on what we have achieved and how we can continue to redeem Jerusalem from her modern day woes.

 

On a more prosaic note, many observant Israeli Jews observe the holiday by fasting for the entire day, beginning from the night before. In the evening and the morning of the 9th of Av, the book of Lamenations is read in its entirety, and afterwards, Kinot, or additional lamentations are recited.

 

Written by: Rabbi David Ebstein


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