Jerusalem has been a bustling, even joyous city for the better part of a century, the destination of choice for visitors to Israel, most certainly for American Jews and thousands of our students. The Kotel is never lonely, and the real estate is so in demand that it has attracted foreign speculators and local resentment, understandably, by the have-nots.
One thing Jerusalem is not is that city described on Tisha b’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar year (and observed Saturday night and Sunday), as a city that sits desolate and solitary.
Since Israel’s independence, and all the more after the unification of the Jerusalem in 1967, Tisha b’Av, which marks the destruction of the ancient Temple, has, for some, seemed quaint or outdated. And yet, despite this city’s renaissance, even in the ecstasy after its unification, Tisha b’Av has retained its hold on our souls and imagination. The Shoah-like story of Lamentations and the commencement of the exile, with its unparalleled millennia of suffering, would be reason enough to fast and mourn. Even today, any reading of a Jewish newspaper would clearly show that we are still in exile, if not from our land than from our truest selves.
How can we say that we’re not in some sort of exile when Israel’s enemies proclaim their commitment to her destruction, with thousands of rockets from Gaza and Lebanon pointed toward her every city and Iran continuing apace its nuclear program? With it all, our allies are few and hesitant. Too often in modern Israel’s history that verse from Lamentations seems lifted from the news, “she hath none to comfort her.”
Once a year on Tisha b’Av it is worth our while to sit on the ground and mourn, if only for ourselves, what we’ve been through as a people, what exile has wrought, what was lost even for all we’ve found.
Our Lamentations conclude with the prayer that our days be restored, as of old, and in many ways they have, but no one really thinks the restoration is complete. That is our job, beginning the morning after.