During my first summer as a camper at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin in 1969, I remember participating in a discussion called something like “Do we still need Tisha B”av?” We were only two years removed from the Six Day War and only 24 years from the end of World War II. The Jewish world was feeling like there was finally some vindication.
The Shoah had become the focal point of American Judaism’s civil religion and was still very fresh in our collective memory. The Israeli army seemed invincible. More relevant to our Tisha B’Av discussion, Jerusalem had been reunited. Even if you’ve only heard the recording once, Lt. General Motta Gur’s words, Har Habayit b’yadeinu (“The Temple Mount is in our hands”), are practically impossible to forget.
There was a euphoria that led to seemingly radical expressions of Judaism, no doubt influenced by the overall 1960’s counter-culture. Not only did the chavurah movement gain steam, but in 1969 there was a student sit-in at the annual meeting of the Council of Jewish Federations in Boston (the forerunner to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America) to protest the lack of funds being allocated to Jewish education. We were asserting ourselves loudly and proudly on the issue of Soviet Jewry. Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway only five years earlier, which led to mainstream acceptance of Jewish tradition. Combined with Israel’s stunning performance in the Six Day War, American Jews felt it was suddenly acceptable to be openly and proudly Jewish.
So really, why commemorate the bad stuff when so much good was happening?
Fast forward 45 years.
It seems that we have been far too complacent. In addition to all of the obvious Tisha B’Av mourning – for the two Temples and for almost every imaginable tragedy in Jewish history – today, in 2014, we need to come to terms with our own American Jewish communal complacency.
While mourning and the comfort that follow are the most integral parts of the day, we must never walk away from tragedy (as if that were even possible) without lessons learned. Aside from the obvious connection to the current state of the Jewish world, this Tisha B’Av also serves as a reminder for us to be vigilant, reslolute, and anything but complacent. In this way, Tisha B’Av is more relevant than ever.