Tisha B’Av

Jews around the world this week mark the fast day of Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the month of Av, this year August 6-7), an occasion on which we commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. Tisha B’Av has over the centuries become a more general day of mourning for the Jewish people, commemorating the innumerable tragedies that Jews have experienced.

Historian Heinrich Graetz for this reason described the past of the Jewish people as “a valley of tears.”

Even now, we often feel as if we walk through that valley. FBI statistics show that hate crimes are at record levels, and that Jews are the most targeted religious group. Our houses of worship have been transformed into scenes of carnage, such as at the Chabad of Poway and the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and we are targeted elsewhere, as well. A new antisemitism has spread throughout the West, menacing first Jewish communities in Europe and more and more now in the United States. The state of Israel itself must also contend with attempts to undermine and delegitimize it based on a one-sided reading of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that more and more tends to flirt with antisemitism. As the last Holocaust survivors pass away, antisemitism rips off its mask. These trends impose on us a grave responsibility and could prove grounds for despair.

But, the Jewish people have means of defense superior to what there was in the past. Seven decades ago, the state of Israel was born, inaugurating a new chapter in the story of our people. The Jewish state has ensured that the Jewish people will never again be left defenseless, and that there will always be at least someone who will speak for them among the councils of nations. American Jewry has also proved historic in the long tale of our people; never has a Jewish community been so secure, so prosperous and so well-integrated in the Diaspora than our own. Many of the challenges we face as a Jewish community in America – notably intermarriage and the loss of identity – attest to how accepted Jews are in this country.

And as we commemorate the tragedies of the past, we can have some confidence that – due to our vigilance and the resources we have – the same will not recur. Countries around the world have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of antisemitism, which for the first-time rightly recognizes that anti-Israel venom is often actually masked as hatred towards the Jewish people. The most recent of these was Bosnia-Herzegovina last month, a country whose history is sadly marked by religious hatred and genocide, as well. Thirty-five states in the United States have passed bills to counter the dishonest and hateful BDS Movement and another 26 have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism just in the last year.

And, as distinct from our not-too-distant-past, the government is not perpetuating crimes against the Jewish people, but rather we work hand-in-hand with governments at the local, state, and federal levels to ensure the safety and security of the Jewish people. We are also fortunate to have friends of goodwill in all religious communities who understand the real threats of antisemitism; we are not alone in our fight for safety and coexistence.

Let us mourn this month, for there is much to grieve and remember in our history. But let us also be comforted that a return to exclusion and persecution of the past is not inevitable nor even probable, so long as we remain ever-vigilant in defending our community.

About the Author
William Daroff became the Chief Executive Officer of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on February 1, 2020. In that capacity, he is the senior professional guiding the Conference’s agenda on behalf of the 53 national member organizations, which represent the wide mosaic of American Jewish life. Follow him at @Daroff
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