I’ve only spent one Tisha b’Av in Israel so far. Ever since then, Tisha b’Av is the day I feel most disjointed and apprehensive out of year. That summer, I was a counselor on a program called Counterpoint Israel. Eichah was read at Yemin Moshe, and the rest of the fast was spent on YU’s Israel Campus, where our two-week sleepaway camp for the youth village teenagers. the solemnity of the day was present, just as it was all those years I spent it in the United States, but there was a hint of hopefulness within it, at least, there was for me.
I didn’t know what to do about it. Today is not the day to be hopeful, it’s the day to mourn the many tragedies that stain our long history. I thought a lot about my Uncle Sam z”l, the last living family member of my great-grandparents’ generation. Before going to Israel for the summer, my sister and I had gone to Boston to visit him, to learn as much as we could about life in Czarist Russia, starting life all over again in America, serving as a US army chaplain in China, building a Jewish community from scratch in the post-war years, and sticking with it for decades after…within it all, sacrifices were made, families were lost, and as assimilation became easier, the faith so many had given everything for slowly began to fade. These events happened right before his eyes, year after year after year.
And yet, here I was, in Jerusalem, mourning the Temple’s destruction only miles from its site. I was surrounded my campers and colleagues from around the globe – the US, New Zealand, Australia, England, Ukraine, and Ethiopia. The journey to Israel had been painful for many, with loss along the way; nowhere does it say that Kibbutz Galiyot would be a pleasant process – and yet, here we were, on Israeli soil. So much sacrifice has gone into the possibility of that very moment, but it was happening. It was real. Is there any way not to feel some sense of hope in that situation?
Rabbi Akiva didn’t let the sight of foxes strolling across the Temple grounds deter his faith. I’m no Rabbi Akiva, but seeing Jews from all over the world commemorating our losses together is just as prophetic as the Temple’s destruction. And on that Tisha b’Av, as we sat together in the hills of Jerusalem, I deeply felt that I was the right person, at the right place, at the right time.
I’ve remembered that feeling ever since, and it gives me one more reason to feel a loss on this day.
Reading Eichah at Yemin Moshe, Summer 2011