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Chaim Y. Botwinick

A River of Tears for Yerushalayim

photo by C. Botwinick

I never had the z’chut (good fortune) to be present in Yerushalyim during Tisha B’Av. But, for many who have, I am told that it is an experience of a lifetime – filled with emotion, tears and sorrow; tempered with hope, promise and optimism.

I can vividly recall my first visit to the Kotel. I was in my early twenties. Upon arrival at the Kotel plaza, I was somewhat disappointed that I did not feel (as many would describe) the kedusha, wonderment and awe one would expect to feel when visiting the Kotel for the very first time. Truth be told, I not only felt disappointed. but I was saddened and dejected. Here I was, after much anticipation and excitement, finally face-to-face with the only  remnants of the original supporting western wall of the  holy Bais HaMikdash,  But, unfortunately, I did not feel the vibe that I had eagerly anticipated or expected. As a twenty something, this was deflating and even upsetting……thinking that maybe something was not right with my own personal level Jewish identity, emunah or spirituality.

At the Kotel, I recall vividly how I put on my tefillin, davened and said tehillim with kavana (rigor). I  even wrote several hopes, wishes and  brachot on small folded note papers which I  carefully inserted (as is the custom) deep between the small crevices of the beautiful smooth golden brown  weathered stones of the Kotel. But, irrespective of how much I desperately  tried, I  was unable to shed but one tear throughout this beautiful personal experience.

When I shared this disappointment with several friends and family, including my Rebbe at that time, the response was virtually the same  – “most younger people feel the same way when they visit the kotel for their first time”…….but, ” when you visit the second or third time, the bond and connection becomes spiritually and emotionally deeper.

This was so true. When I returned to the Kotel  two weeks later and then again a year later, I felt a level of instinctive emotion and an almost intuitive feeling of  kedusha and spiritual connectedness, Since that time, and for the next 35 years, whenever visiting Yerushalayim and the Kotel, I feel a very unique and special sense of  privilege, kedusha, joy and reverence. In fact, this every time I visit the Kotel, I am  now  continuously enriched and inspired beyond imagination

Every year, during the nine days leading up to Tisha B’Av as well as on Tisha B’Av itself,  I am reminded of these personal spiritual  transitions and transformations as a young man. I am always reminded about how I first felt visiting the kotel  (for the first time) and how that experience has evolved and grown to a level of excitement and anticipation.

This feeling is always tempered by the powerful and tragic loss, desecration and destruction of the Bet HaMikdash–  a disaster of epic proportion. Not only did it happen once in our history but twice with the destruction of the second Bet HaMikdash on that very same day.

What makes this coming Tisha B’Av even more sad and tragic is the reality of events now occurring in Israel

Our Jewish world is now being rocked and is experiencing the sad and daunting irony of ironies. As I write this blog, there are thousands of Israelis now demonstrating and protesting in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. These massive protests are in anticipation of tomorrows initial vote by the Knesset regarding new controversial Judicial  reforms. Even the IDF and Labor Unions have now threatened action if indeed these judicial reforms are approved by the Knesset at tomorrow’s  (Monday).session.

I can never ever recall such overt, public displays of anger, acrimony and consternation between brother and brother and sister versus sisters.  What we are experiencing in the streets of Israel today, defies our imagination.

The irony of ironies is that all of this violent unrest takes place just several days prior to Tisha B’Av.  There are no coincidences. Have we not learned a lesson in history? Do we so casually forget the stiff price we pay for hatred towards one another (sinat chinam). Or is it just no longer relevant or important to us in 2023?

The level of harsh rhetoric and sinat chimam now being spewed ad nauseam in the streets of Tel Aviv and and Jerusalem  are yet another stark reminder that we as a Jewish nation still have a long way to go in its continued quest for communal sholom bayit, achdut bnai yisrael and civility.

This is just another somber example and reminder of how fragile our Jewish community really is and how we are losing our moral Jewish compass, soul, identity and direction through the manner in which we are treating one another.

We must seek compromise on these divisive issues and we must identify the leadership that will help encourage and facilitate compromise. We have no other options. But we also know that compromise can only occur through leadership with a true sense of commitment, passion and urgency.

As we sit at the kotel this coming Tisha B’Av while we morun the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash let us rember the river of tears that have been spilling over for generations. Tears of sadness, tears of loss and tears of  anguish.

That one tear which  I so desperately tried to shed on my very first visit to the kitel (at the age of twenty three) is now cascaded into a sea of tears for Achdut B’nai Yisrael.  These tears are not only those of heartache and pain because of the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, but the shedding of  tears for the very reasons the destruction actually took place – sinat chinam.

We can and must do better.

With warm wishes for a meaningful fast; and, may Hashem grant all of  us the wisdom and will to treat each other with derech eretz and civility. Only then will our nation be able to  rebuild our Bet HaMikdash  with respect and communal shalom bayit – speedily in out time.

About the Author
Dr. Chaim Botwinick is a senior executive coach and an organizational consultant . He served as president and CEO of the central agency for Jewish education in Baltimore and in Miami; in addition to head of school and principal for several Jewish day schools and yeshivot. He has published and lectured extensively on topics relating to education, resource development, strategic planing and leadership development. Dr. Botwinick is Author of “Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness”, Brown Books, 2011