I just returned from the Old City in Jerusalem. Tonight begins Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of Av, during which is said that the First and Second Temples were destroyed and Jerusalem herself was left in flames and the people were exiled. This is a day of fasting and reading Eicha, the book of Lamentations.
While I do not connect with this holiday on a religious level, meaning, I don’t pray for the Third Temple to be rebuilt; I don’t feel that it’s such a bad thing to be living outside the land of Israel and that all Jews do not need to return to Israel; I am not in any rush for the reestablishment of the sacrificial cult – I love being a Rabbi in California and I can’t imagine trying to get the blood stains out of my husband’s clothing every day after he came home from the Temple service since he is a Cohain.
What I do connect with on Tisha B’Av is the historical significance of this day. We can say for sure that there is historical proof that the city of Jerusalem and the Temples were destroyed, first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans. We can say that so many Jews/Israelites were killed in the city of Jerusalem and we see this evidence in the burnt homes that are found still buried under the streets of today. We know that there was pain in the alleys and we know that so many died. I lament over the destruction, the pain and the death. But I hold hope in today and the future.
Tonight, I joined with some friends and the Masoreti (Conservative) movement at Robinson’s arch, at the very edge of where the Western Wall and the Southern Wall come to meet. In some ways, I find this space to be even more holy in that we are able to stand under the arch that led up to the Temple Mount. That on the Southern Wall, we are able to see the remnants of the gates that the people entered when they went to visit the Temple, the Beit haMikdash. That tonight, we sat on the very street where people passed to visit the mikvah before going up to the Mount and also visited the stalls to buy what they needed for the sacrifices. And what was truly chilling was the cool wind, or ruach, that swirled around us, even though we were in an area that one would think was protected from the elements.
That on this street we sat amongst the rubble, the stones that were cast down from the top of the Temple Mount. We sat with the destruction in front of us and my mind could only wander to a place 2000 years ago and through reading Eicha, I could hear the cries and feel the fire.
Following the haunting chant of Eichah our service concluded with all of us joining together to sing Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. How appropriate it was to sing this song of hope and the future. How appropriate it is that at this time, while we remember the destruction, we also remember that today is the future. Yes, Jerusalem was destroyed 2000 years ago, but we are here now. The people have returned. The Jewish people hold on to Jerusalem today, and we will not let her go.
However, there was still some sadness around me. As we walked to the Kotel plaza, the place where people go to visit the Western Wall, the mechitzah, the wall that divides the men from the women (so that a man should not be distracted from his prayers by the sight of a woman or her voice) was extended even further into the plaza. While it was awesome to see so many people sitting on the ground with copies of Eichah, it was sad to feel that this is not my place unless I adhere to the rules of the Orthodox.
A young woman and her parents were talking in front of me in the plaza and she told her parents how she was just yelled at by one of the “Kotel Police” (who will ask you to cover yourself up with one of their scarves if your legs are showing too much or your shoulders are not covered) who told her that she could not stand where she was for she wandered into the “men’s side.” She was so disturbed and angry because they were so rude to her. Her father looked at her and said that this was crazy! And then they looked over at me, standing so close. I smiled and said, ‘yes, I know and I agree.’ To which her father came up to me and said, ‘was it not because the Jewish people could not get along, that they argued so much, that the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed?’ ‘Yes’ I said. And he responded, ‘the Kabbalah teaches, that which seems to be real is fake and that which is real is fake! Now, I have to go find my son. Thank you, you have a beautiful neshamah! (soul)’ and they left.
Yes, it is taught that the Temple was destroyed because the Jewish people could not get along; that there were too many divisions amongst us. Today, we need to listen to that lesson and rather than trying to make the mechitzah, the barrier larger, we need to tear it down and try to unite as one people.
Tonight, I experienced Tisha B’Av in a way I never expected. To stand here in Jerusalem, to be in the place where it happened, was moving and awesome. And now, as we approach our final week here I have to ask, how will I take Yerushalayim l’malah, how will I take Jerusalem home with me to keep it in my heart but also to share it with so many others?