How can we describe Jerusalem as we do on Tisha B’av as desolate and barren when the city is full of schools, museums, universities and families?
Jerusalem is becoming a center of Hi-Tech and business with Israelis and Olim alike, working here and not needing to travel to the center of Israel as they once did. Jerusalem is a fascinating city, full of life, learning and culture – Far from the way portrayed in the lamentations and prayers we say on Tisha B’av.
Furthermore, if there is one day more than any other in the Jewish Calendar that reflects how different life is here in Israel than in the Diaspora, it is Tisha B’av.
Tisha B’av in the Diaspora often turns into a quasi Holocaust Memorial Day. The majority of programmes feature films and survivors from the Holocaust and talks are often on the subject of why good things happen to bad people, human suffering and theodicy. Rarely is there mention of the the lacking of the Temple, or the sacrifices or the warning of the prophets in the Bible of impending calamity.
In Israel, the day is very different. Apart from the fact that I can’t eat or drink, I actually enjoy Tisha B’av and find it an interesting and meaningful day.
Why? Not just because of the plethora of interesting programmes and lectures to chose from ( Check out the IsraelB.org online community for what’s happening) but also because one is encouraged to feel that, by living in Israel, one is a part of the renewal and rebirth of the Jewish People. That in a way Jerusalem and the Temple are in the process of being rebuilt.
As result of us having our own country, Hebrew has once again become a living language. Simply walk into a Yeshiva or high school in Israel and you will find students able to pick up any Jewish text and understand it on a simple level. Levels of Jewish literacy are palpably higher than that of Jewish students abroad.
Late on a Tisha B’Av afternoon, whilst walking to the Kotel one can’t help but appreciate modern day Jerusalem. The contrast of the new David Citadel and Mamila and the weathered yet beautiful facades of the Old City and its residents make one long for the majesty of the Temple to resolve and complete this contract. Being surrounded by young people doing the same, seeing the plaza of the Kotel filled with families-young and old, religious and secular, brings confidence that Jerusalem will one day soon be even more indescribable.
So, should we still fast on Tisha B’av in Israel 2017?
Yes, for the following reasons:
1) We still don’t have the Temple and sacrifices. Even though, yes, we may have gone back to the days of Joshua as we do have sovereignty and have conquered the land again, we haven’t gone back to the time period of King Solomon and Herod and we need to mourn and feel the void of the lack of the Temple and sacrifices. Fasting is an expression of our mourning and emotional yearning for going back to a time when we had a Temple.
2) Tisha B’av is a day when we remember all the tragedies in our history – the pogroms and Holocaust etc. We are Jews, and our past is part of our present and defines how we perceive our future. Through fasting we remember our history and become more aware of our past.
3) Needless hatred and lack of unity still plagues our people. The Rabbis said, the destruction of the Second Temple was caused by, ‘Sinat Chinam’ – causeless hatred and a lack of respect for each other and sadly this problem is still prevalent in Israeli society.
4) Although, things aren’t bad now as was described in the prophets at the time of the destruction of the Temples, there are problems in Israeli society: The corruption and dishonesty in politics and amongst the leadership, the polarization and lack of unity, the lack of tolerance and mutual respect and the inability to accept and help minorities and outsiders. Through fasting we will be able to reflect on how we need to change as a nation and do Teshuva – Repentance.
5) Is Israeli society ready for a Temple? Before the Temple can be rebuilt, the Jewish People need to be adequately prepared and I just don’t think enough ground work has been done. Fasting on Tisha B’av gives us an opportunity to think about how we can improve and mend our ways.
So, Israel isn’t a perfect country and like any other society, there is still much work to be done. But Israel is like no other country. To think that just over 70 years ago, the Jewish People underwent the most horrific tragedy that any nation has experienced where a third of our People was murdered and yet have within such a short amount of time have managed to create a country which is a leader in so many fields and areas is something we must be proud of.
Ben Gurion said, “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.” The fact we live in a country smaller than the size of Wales, and yet have managed to survive and prosper here in the Middle East against all the odds , is something we should bear in mind and be thankful for each day. We are living in a time period of ‘Kibbutz Kaluyot’ – ‘The Ingathering of the Exiles’, with Jews from all around the world making Aliyah.
Only in Israel, can you live a totally Jewish life as those of us who grew up in the Diaspora appreciate. Despite everything, Israel is our one and only country and the only place a Jew can call home.
So, yes, living here in Israel we are part of the rebirth of the Jewish People, and yes, Jerusalem is a beautiful city bursting with young people and energy, but we still have way to go and need to be mourning the loss of the Temples and praying for it to be rebuilt.