On a trip to Israel several years ago I took part in a walk around the Old City of Jerusalem on the eve of Tish B’Av (9th day of the month of Av on the Hebrew calendar). I met with hundreds of other people and together we read the Book of Lamentations as we sat on the ground in an act of mourning; recalling the destruction of our Holy Temples and other tragedies within Jewish history.
“The elders of the daughter of Zion
Sit on the ground and keep silence;
They throw dust on their heads
And gird themselves with sackcloth.
The virgins of Jerusalem
Bow their heads to the ground.
We began our walk at the New Gate and proceeded to the gates of Damascus, Flower, and Lion, ending at the Dung Gate, after which, many continued to pray into the early morning hours at the Kotel (Western Wall). We carried Israeli flags on poles that waved high above the crowd while others draped flags over their shoulders. Melodious voices arose offering Tehillim (Psalms), and the blowing of shofars echoed in the night air. Although I had made several trips to Israel before, this was the first time I had been here on Tish B’Av and it was an experience which I will never forget.
As we passed through the Flower Gate, local Arabs peered out windows and stood before their shops motionless with arms folded across their chests. Our unwanted presence could not be denied. Like pepper on pasta, the Police and IDF (Israeli Defense Force) were everywhere. I had never witnessed such intense security. Everywhere I looked, officers and soldiers stood with M-16’s strapped across their chests; on rooftops, behind shrubs, and at every corner, these stark figures stood poised, ready for action if the slightest disturbance. Even where there was nothing but blackness, tiny red blinking security lights could be seen, which meant that a soldier was standing watch.
About mid-way through the walk, a wave of emotion crept over me. I couldn’t contain the tears that suddenly filled my eyes. My breathing fought to remain calm, as it tried to hold back inner wails mourning. I realized that this was not just any walk — this was something beyond my carnal expectations. This realization awakened me like a slap across the face. With every step I took upon the ancient stones, I became more aware of an excitement rising deep within my soul. I was with hundreds of others, yet felt an intimate connection with the ache of every heart which had ever mourned before me. This feeling was beyond words, and even now, descriptions are inadequate.
Looking up from my daze, I noticed a woman walking closely next to me. Our steps seemed to be matched in cadence so I turned and asked her, “Do you know exactly where we are right now?” The woman explained that we had just passed through the Flower Gate a few minutes ago, and like someone who knew too well, she continued, “You are feeling the emotion of this place.” And suddenly, at that very moment I realized what my emotions had been telling me all along. My heart was making Teshuva (returning) to the soul of Israel as visions of a rebuilt Temple flashed within my mind. The sound of The Moshiach’s footsteps beat within my heart and the fragrance of Temple incense elevated my spirit to see afresh.
I am now blessed to call Israel my home. I no longer visit, as my husband and I made aliyah (returned) a few years ago. Our Holy Temple is being rebuilt within every Jew’s heart and I am grateful each day for the opportunity to live here at such a time as this.