August 12, 2016
Dear Friend of Israel
Continued unrest in the Middle East and the resurgence of anti-Semitism around the globe remind us that threats to Israel and her people are as present today as they have been for millennia. It seems fitting, then, that beginning sundown this Saturday, August 13th, Jews around the world will fast to mark one of the most solemn days in the Jewish year – Tisha B’Av.
On Tisha B'Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, we remember numerous calamities that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history. On this day in 135 C.E., the Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by Israel’s Roman conquerors. In 1492, the King and Queen of Spain issued an order expelling all Jews, thus eliminating one of the most vibrant and largest Jewish communities in Europe. On the eve of Tisha B’Av In 1942, the Nazis began deporting Jews in Poland’s Warsaw Ghetto to the death camps. And, in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E., respectively, the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed.
In commemoration of these tragedies, each year on Tisha B’Av Jews refrain from ordinary pleasures and indulgences, including eating and drinking. We avoid frivolity of any sort and follow customs associated with mourning: We do not bathe, wear cosmetics or leather shoes, and we sit on low chairs to minimize comfort. Even Bible study – an activity Jewish tradition considers joyous – is restricted to passages describing the laws of mourning, the destruction of the Temple, and other tragic events.
But, while Tisha B’Av is a day of great solemnity, it is also one of hope. We commemorate past tragedies not to wallow in our grief, but to strengthen our memory of history, and to ensure that such things do not happen again. And, perhaps, our remembering will help us realize that our survival through so many bitter trials is indeed a miracle, a gift from God.
All of us go through periods of suffering. Tisha B'Av challenges us to remember our past difficulties, because only by doing so can we truly appreciate seasons of joy and blessing. Only then can we truly thank God when we emerge from the dark tunnel of despair. Psalm 30:5 teaches us, “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
This Tisha B’Av, we thank God that mourning turns to hope, and that our faith teaches us that a day will come when the whole world will be filled with the knowledge of God. Thus, as we grieve our individual pain and as Jews mourn their collective tragedies on Tisha B'Av, let us find hope in our God who redeems. And let us renew our pledge to pray to God for the most precious gift of shalom, peace.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President