I grew up in an Orthodox home in Toronto. And, although I won’t reveal my exact age, suffice it to say I’ve spent more than three decades fasting on the ninth of Av and sitting on the lumpy cushions on the floor of my shul in Toronto while listening to Megillat Eicha. Nothing much has changed since I’ve made Aliyah, except I sit on the cold hard marble floor instead, since there are no cushions in my shul. And while I learned throughout my schooling the significance of this fast day – second in importance to the fast of Yom Kippur – it’s sometimes difficult to really feel it in your bones. We begin the mourning period every summer on the fast day of 17th of Tammuz, which was the day the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans in 69 CE. Three weeks later, on the 9th of Av, marks not just the date of the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash (the second Holy Temple) but also was the date of the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash as well. And if that wasn’t enough tragedy for a single day, there was a whole slew of other terrible events that just so happened on that day as well (not a coincidence in my opinion…).
So, in a nutshell, this was not a great day historically for the Jewish people.
During these last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how I’ve spent past Tisha Be’avs and I’ve come up with some constants. I’ve slept in, hoping that when I finally woke up, half the day had passed so I didn’t have to think about food for more than a few hours. I’ve tried keeping my kids busy so they wouldn’t complain about being starving. I’ve read books and watched documentaries. Then, later in the day, I’ve busied myself with cooking for the conclusion of the fast, which somehow – ironically – manages to keep my hunger at bay. I’m not sure, though, that I’ve really ever felt like I was mourning.
I suppose it’s difficult to mourn something you’ve never had. Despite learning all through school about the Beit Hamikdash and learning about how it was made, how holy a place it was, how sacrifices were brought to the Kohanim (the Priests), it’s all just stories and legends, more or less. No matter how many times I’ve learned about bringing the first of your crops to the Kohen or about how he took a handful of flour and some oil, and made some sort of cake and then burned it, it was all so removed, so distant. And the fact that the destruction of both Temples occurred thousands of years before I was born, has distanced me further from the event. And so while I go through the motions of not eating meat, not swimming or listening to music or going to parties or the movies for nine days and then ending this period with a twenty-five hour fast that begins by sitting on the cold hard floor and listening to the tragic reading of Megillat Eicha, I’m not always truly mournful.
In fact, I remember one particular Tisha Be’av, exactly 14 years ago, when I passed the day in a drunken state of joy and euphoria as I sat in Tel Hashomer Hospital holding my gorgeous, healthy, super-cute baby girl that was born only two days earlier. Not fasting and basking in the quiet mother-baby bonding, I was too busy mooning over her to think about Tisha Be’av.
This year is different. These last three weeks can only be described as hellish. It started with the cruel and unforgivable kidnappping and murder of three young boys and culminated in a war so devastating and frightening that it’s left us all shaken. We’ve lost WAY too many of our young, brave soldiers and our nation is truly in a state of mourning. And I’ve felt it, this all-encompassing sadness that has taken over our people. I’ve felt it in every nerve ending of my body. Now, with a little perspective, I think back to August 70 CE, when our second Holy Temple was destroyed by the Romans, scattering the Jewish people and commencing our exile from the Holy Land.
And while I got it before, now I really get it.
The very existence of the Jews of 70 CE were at risk for annihilation. They lost a country that they were gifted by God, a country that they loved. They lost their Holy Temple, their place to worship God freely and with a whole heart. Families were torn apart, and loved ones murdered before their very eyes. Whoever was left standing was taken away by shackles to other strange countries, forced to give up their religious beliefs. Their yeshivot and their places of worship were now a thing of the past.
It’s now August 4th, 2014. Centuries lie between us and them, but the threat facing us right now is one and the same. We are fighting an enemy that wishes to destroy us, to eradicate us from this land that is rightfully ours, a land that we love. And while we don’t have a Beit Hamikdash, their goal is to destroy our religion in the name of theirs. They have already torn families apart by killing our children, our soldiers and our citizens.
But there is one fundamental difference between now and then. We will not let them win. We are hanging on by tooth and nail to this country of ours and we will not let them take it away from us.
But in the meantime, while I’m fasting in the cool air-conditioned comfort of my home, our soldiers are spending this tragic day in impossibly difficult and dangerous conditions. They are fighting for us. For our right to exist in this country that is unequivocally ours. But we’ve paid a terrible price for this just war, and will go on paying it until we can live our lives in peace. We have no other choice in the matter.
And for the first time in a long, long time, this Tisha Be’av, August 4, 2014, I am in mourning.