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The Modern Meaning of Tisha b’Av

The Jewish Memorial Day, The Fast of the Ninth of the Jewish month of Av, Tisha b’Av, marks the end of a three week period of mourning during which our people remember the series of events that led to the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of our people’s first Temple on that date in the year 586 BCE. Sadly, it also marks the day some six hundred years later in the year 70 CE when the Roman legions pushed through the crumbling defenses of Jerusalem to desecrated and destroyed the rebuilt second Temple, as they crushed a rebellion that shook the heart of the Empire and drove our people into exile. Over time, our people associated many of the most painful moments with this grim day.

Traditionally, Tisha b’Av was a dark day of mourning as we cried over our loses and bewailed our exile. On Tisha b’Av, we felt most keenly our sense of powerlessness and our feeling of separation from our spiritual center in our ancestral homeland. It was the day on which we acknowledged the emotional and spiritual pain of our people’s exile.

But today, we are no longer in exile. Our people have returned to our ancient homeland and rebuilt our towns and cities. We are no longer powerless. Our world has changed and our needs have changed. To speak to us today, Tisha b’Av can not longer be the day on which we remember all the evil that has happened to us. It needs to become the day on which we understand that despite our setbacks, our struggles, our real loses and deep suffering, we, the Jewish people, have overcome the obstacles fate has set before us. Our existence today is a triumph of our people’s spirit. Any commemoration of Tisha B’Av that does not acknowledge this reality is inadequate. There is something miraculous about the Jewish people, our culture, and our faith.

We no longer need to find ways to mourn our losses but need to discover new paths to cherish all that we have gained. Thank God, our chief worry is not being crushed in our weakness but becoming arrogant and careless with our success and power. We need to enhance our sense of appreciation for the blessings that we have. We must not take for granted and foolishly lose all that for generations we could only obtain in our dreams. A renewed and transformed Tisha b’Av commemoration can help us greatly in this task. We need to refocus Tisha b’Av from a day of Jewish mourning to a Jewish Memorial Day. Let us transform it to a day on which we can solemnly acknowledge all those of our people, who over the centuries accepted hardship, experienced sorrow and even suffered death so that we, the Jewish people, could survive. Let us make Tisha B’Av the day on which we give thanks to them for their loyalty to our people and our faith and the day on which we renew our commitment to the heritage they so lovingly and painfully bequeathed to us.

We, the Jewish people, are survivors and the descendants of survivors. Let us not forget all those whom over the countless generations of our people kept the faith in our God, in our Torah and in each other. Let us not forget to honor their struggles but, also, let us, also, not forget to celebrate their gifts.

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