Jews around the world will soon be observing the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av (meaning the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av) which begins at sundown July 29. The holiday commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. These are both very sad and significant events in Jewish history and every year Jews mentally prepare for the holiday by observing a three week mourning period. As we know there is much to be learned from studying history, regardless of whether it’s Jewish, European, American or more broadly, world history. In this modern era in which we are all active participants, learning from the past is even more relevant, particularly as we confront a worldwide pandemic, bear witness to racial injustices and experience a flood of demonstrations in the United States, Israel and other parts of the world.
Here in Israel, the pandemic continues to be a major concern and our current unity government is challenged with a number of issues. Mainly, the inability of our leaders who, for variety of reasons including the Prime Minister’s legal issues, are unable to join together and create meaningful legislation. Most critically, there is not yet a meaningful strategy to thwart the pandemic and this is angering many Israelis. Also, the unemployment rate has increased from 3.9% in February 2020 to its current rate of over 21% with no real hope for change in the near future. The ongoing threat from Iran and its proxies in Syria and Lebanon are also of great concern. Taken together, these overarching issues are causing a lot of stress in Israeli society, and like many in America who are frustrated by the dominant issues in the US society, Israelis are similarly going to the streets in increasing numbers to voice their disapproval.
The last nine days of the mourning period leading up to Tisha B’Av are marked by a tradition of sad imagery, mood and loneliness coupled with many restrictions on cutting hair, nails, entertainment, swimming, etc as well as a halt to all celebratory events like weddings. This period concludes with the holiday of Tisha B’Av which is traditionally observed by religious Jews with a 25 hour fast, readings about the prophecy of Jeremiah and the destruction of the First Temple from the Book of Lamentations and other traditions. The lead up to the holiday as well as the actual day itself is a time for pause and reflection, to take stock of where we are as people and how we are living our lives.
What do our modern day challenges have to do with Tisha B’Av? Ordinarily Israeli summers are filled with lots of energy and excitement but with covid-19, demonstrations and all our other issues, its easy to be in the down spirit of this holiday. Before the Temples were destroyed life was good but the destruction of the temples left the Jewish people distraught, insecure and possibly even questioning their faith in God. Certainly the Jews of 586 BC and the Jews of 70AD had to be wondering what their lives would be like moving forward without a temple. But move forward they did and they persevered in spite of the destruction.
We are all living now in a similar time of insecurity. Yet we must similarly find strength to move forward. We need to find ways to get involved in making the world a better place, and to be encouraged and inspired by all the people we see around us that are selflessly attending to the ill, often at great personal risk. Tisha B’Av is not just about remembering the destroyed Temple, its about challenging ourselves to rebuild our lives and make them even better.