Wailing, fasting and the wearing of ashes, alongside socializing, communing and catching up with old friends in a fun outdoor atmosphere. That is the dichotomy of Tisha B'Av in modern day Jerusalem. On the one hand a somber mood, but on the other hand, a paradoxical sense of joviality fills the warm summer night.
It makes sense that some level of happiness is in the air, because after all, we are bewailing the destruction of Jerusalem in a big, beautiful and built Jerusalem. This contrast is highlighted in the Jewish liturgy on Tisha B'Av when we say the “Nachem” prayer referring to mournful, destroyed and desolate Jerusalem. However, we must take note that we say that prayer in one of the hundreds of beautiful Synagogues in the city, or at the courtyard of Jerusalem’s city hall, or at the Western Wall with thousands of our fellow Jewish Israeli citizens who have traveled from other thriving Israeli cities on the paved roads of the Jewish state to pray for the future of Jerusalem.
Indeed, a major change has taken place in Jewish life, and while we keep the same rites as we have kept for 2000 years, our reality is vastly different. To understand the change, here is a parable: Two women are in a room and both are single. One’s husband has just died, while the other is engaged to be married – both are indeed single, but they are in totally different states of mind.
So, too, is the Jewish nation: We have mourned for the last two millennia because we were forcibly dispossessed of our land, our capital was sacked, our Temple destroyed and it was as though our husband was murdered. But now with half the Jewish people in the land of Israel and Jerusalem standing in earthly beauty, we are engaged to be married and await the next stage of fulfillment. Like a bride waiting for the wedding canopy, we impatiently await the completion of this great process.
Yet, so many Jews deny the obvious reality. Almost like a mantra, they tell you that nothing has changed, that we are still in exile, that there is no difference between living in Israel and living in the Diaspora. Our own people somehow don’t see the transformation that has opened the doors for our nation to return to lost tradition, speak our national language, fight in a Jewish army, and create a culturally Jewish state on our ancestral land. One gets the impression that some prefer not to see it, lest it break their romance with other dreams, namely, the American Dream.
Last year, I read an article entitled: “They Just Want Kosher Dodger Dogs.” The article went on to tell the story of six Jewish, “accomplished professionals” who are also “season ticket holders,” working feverishly to remedy the lack of kosher hot dogs at Dodger Stadium in LA. “We are really just a group of people who feel very strongly that the second-largest Jewish community in the country should have the ability to eat a Jewish hot dog at a ballgame...” said a member of the committee, an attorney.
So close, yet so far
Seriously? Is this what grown men spend their time on? The Jewish people are engaged in the most exciting project in two thousand years - building a Jewish State. We face enormous challenges to build up, educate, and protect our people, and all this is happening while wealthy season-ticket kosher-eating Jews are fighting for kosher hot dogs in Dodger stadium? Are we so comfortable with the status quo that Jewish leaders can spend their time on nonsense?
Even if Dodger Dog fighters were not involved in the building of Israel, closer to their home, in the great state of California, there are serious problems with anti-Semitism at many colleges, high intermarriage rates, and scores of Jews who are losing all connection with Judaism. Some young Jews don’t stand a chance of getting Jewish schooling, while others are afraid to show their kippah on campus. Yet a group of wealthy kosher-eating Jews is not ashamed to go public with their efforts to bring fresh kosher dogs to their box seats?
It is painful to see good people be so misguided, so flippant with their time and money. I bet they even see their hot dog fight as some kind religious victory, an effort to win equal treatment in public venues. But really the hot dog war is a loud proclamation that even the kosher-eaters are missing the point of this amazing era. Indeed, we are not in the era of securing kosher dogs at Dodger Stadium, we are in the era of re-establishing a Jewish commonwealth, and it's time we started playing ball in our own stadium instead of being entertained by someone else's game.
Eight years ago Rabbi Shlomo Riskin wrote:
“The formative and formidable challenge of Tisha B’Av is the word Eicha, the first word of the Scroll of Lamentations, which means Wherefore (wherefore is the Sacred City alone and desolate ), our challenging question to G-d after the destruction.”
“But the Hebrew letters Eicha also spell Ayeka, ‘where are you’, i.e. G-d’s challenge to us: where are you in these fateful times fraught with possibility for redemption?”
Yes, we live in fateful times, fraught with possibility for redemption, and we are being asked by Jewish history to engage. But while there is much to do in our time, and lots of power and resources to do it, it is also an era of decadence.
Now, more than ever, we need a reminder that there is a lot of work yet to be done to build a Jewish State and the Tisha B'Av is a perfect opportunity to get us back on track for the mission of our generation. Israel needs our nation's collective input and energy, our money and our sweat. We have to put resources into education, security, infrastructure, health and finance. We have to take our country to the next stage and the Tisha B'Av is there to get us back on track.
And that is why we still cry on Tisha B'Av in today’s beautiful and mostly rebuilt Jerusalem. We weep because with all our success, there is still so much pain and loss, so much ignorance and confusion. We mourn because we are so close and yet so far.