While Jews around the world get ready to commemorate the destruction of our Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, not once, but twice in our history, it is incumbent upon us to reflect upon why it is so important to do so. Why is Tisha B’Av so necessary to be observed by modern Jews? The answer may be more simple than one would surmise. We pay heed to this holiday because not only was the symbol of Jewish hegemony in ancient times destroyed by invading Greeks and Romans centuries apart; but these civilizations knew what modern Jews are quickly forgetting: namely, that we are in danger of losing our heritage due to misappropriation of our holy places by others who seek to wipe out our very history. It is a newer form of anti-Semitism and it must be purged.
The Arabs in the region claim Jerusalem, Hebron and even the resting places of our patriarchs and matriarchs as their own, despite there being no evidence that their claims are even remotely justified. When did Rachel or Joseph ever connect or interact with the people of Arabia? When Palestinians pray at al-Aqsa Mosque which was built on the bones of the Great Temple, they are facing Mecca and Medina, not their mosque in Jerusalem. Nor do they have a holiday commemorating the destruction of the Temple. If a place is truly holy to you and it is destroyed, you commiserate over your loss and take the time to reflect upon it, even if it is but one day a year. At Pesach, we say “next year in Jerusalem”. We are not cavalier about our links to this city. Arabs have no such prayer or sentiment. Furthermore, one does not violate the holy ground of other religions, and yet this is precisely what the Palestinians did to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem during their occupation of it in 2002. Daesh destroyed the tomb of Jonah on their way into Mosul three years ago.
Misappropriation of one group’s holy places happens almost daily in Turkey. Ancient churches are being turned into mosques. Mosques are built upon the shells of destroyed synagogues. It is intentional. It is done as if to say we Jews and Christians were never here and do not exist, which is an absurdity. We do exist. We survived the millennia and we number in the millions. Our resolve to exist and to thrive led to the Zionist enterprise. Our return to our own land should tell the world that we are not going anywhere and that they cannot destroy our heritage by smashing our symbols and proof of our ancient culture. Nowhere in recorded history has a people destroyed their own tombs of their revered leaders and founders. Strategic palaces or lands might have been burned to keep invaders from using them, but the graves of patriarchs and matriarchs? No. And yet, modern Arabs looted and destroyed the graves of Rachel and Joseph on several occasions.
If we are to continue to survive as a people, we must do a better job of protecting our holy places from abuse or destruction. I believe this is the true message of Tisha B’Av.