Tisha B’Av is not the easiest holiday for me.
Not because of the fast, because that’s something I rarely do 100%, except on Yom Kippur. Nor is it because of the obligatory sadness, since as a child I always had a flair for the melodramatic. Even just 3 years ago in Orthodox girls’ seminary, watching pupils obtain a hard-boiled egg and ash to eat on their floors before sunset, I remember simultaneously thinking the ritual was a bit much, but still so hardcore.
I actually didn’t give the 9th of Av much thought until recently. Prior to attending Jewish sleep-away camp, I barely knew it existed. Once it became familiar, I liked reading from the Book of Lamentations and listening to its evocations of Jerusalem, which somehow made me nostalgic for a city that I had yet to visit. But in time, I would become incredibly familiar with the Land of Israel on a first-hand basis, and these days, it’s the modern political connotations of Tisha B’Av that don’t always sit right with me.
Later that same night in seminary, after the ashy eggs had been eaten and the Book of Lamentations had been wailed, we had the option of taking a tour of the Old City at night. I took that option, and aside from being exhausted and freezing (you forget how cold 60°F is when you spend your days in the 90s), it was lovely. But there was a moment at the end of the tour that put a damper in the whole affair. While overlooking the city walls from atop the Mount of Olives, conversation among the girls slowly turned from the beauty of the scenery to the “eyesore” that is now located where the First and Second Temples once stood.
I didn’t say anything. I’m not one to shy away from confronting bigotry, but I had been so beaten down by months of speaking up, I was not in the mood to fight what already seemed like a losing battle at 1:00 in the morning. The next day, I left Jerusalem for a friend’s house in Ramat Gan and ate a full meal with her long before the holiday had gone out.
I’m not afraid to say it anymore; I don’t want a Third Temple. Not in this lifetime, at least. I am fully comfortable leaving that up to God. How quickly we forget that the establishment of the State of Israel by secular Zionists was once considered by the religious to be an infringement on God’s will. If a Third Temple is indeed God’s will, I’ll leave it in His hands. I trust Him. Believe me, I’d be overjoyed, and quite frankly, relieved, if the Messiah showed up tomorrow and all the world’s problems went away. If I do the full Orthodox davening, I have no qualms about praying for another Temple, as the Temple I’m envisioning exists in an entirely different realm. Yet every time I pass that gold menorah on my way down to the Kotel, encased in protective glass and awaiting its day of reckoning, I get an uneasy feeling in my stomach. Just as talk among Muslims about taking back Jerusalem implies the destruction of the Jews living there, talk of rebuilding the Temple in our modern political era implies the destruction of the people who currently occupy the Temple Mount.
Many modernists will argue that dwelling on the past in the manner of the Jewish people is unhealthy, and I must admit they have a point. We ask in our daily prayers for the rebuilding of Jerusalem; we put Jerusalem above our highest joys, even at our weddings; at the end of our holidays we hope to be next year in Jerusalem. Even if the Passover Seder takes place in Jerusalem, we still wish for it, because “in Jerusalem” has taken on a deeper connotation than being physically present in the city.
I’ve never been one to extensively dwell on the past. Even in times of great sorrow, I know that if time and I work together, all wounds will mend. Yet I’ll be damned if there’s anything in the past I will forget. So it made sense when during the Nine Days approaching Tisha B’Av the year following my aforementioned one in Jerusalem, a new perspective dawned on me.
I was lying on my couch, having an internal argument with myself (as I so often do) about the Jewish tendency to dwell on the past. Left Brain brought forth the Eastern European Hassidim who to this day wear the clothing of Eastern Europe. You know, the big fur hats, thick white socks, long black coats - clothing that was certainly never made to be worn in the Middle East. Left Brain suggested that this adherence to tradition was excessive; their ancestors in Canaan certainly didn’t dress that way. Right Brain countered that while she could never imagine dressing in such a way under the Mediterranean sun, she didn’t blame them for doing so. After all, this was part of a tradition that had been mercilessly ripped from them only 70 years ago. They didn’t have a choice in the matter, and their style of dress was one of the few things they had left to retain. Israel may be the Promised Land, but these people did not leave Europe of their own volition, if they were even lucky enough to survive at all.
At that moment, Left Brain and Right Brain recombined to become Jamie again, and something immediately clicked: As real as the Holocaust is to me and Jews of my era, that is how devastating the destruction of the Temple was for my ancestors. All politics aside, Tisha B’Av is about remembering that.
One of my favorite songs to sing on Yom Kippur (can you believe that’s almost here again?) is “Mareh Kohen”. If you’re not familiar, the song recounts the glorious sight of the High Priest after he emerged from the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. Beautiful lyrics, including “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the midst of the clouds… like the majesty with which the Creator attired the patriarchs… like a bright star in the border of the east was the sight of the Kohen Gadol,” remind us how the original observance of the holiday must have felt. Much like the Book of Lamentations during my teenage years, the song has the ability to make listeners nostalgic for an era they are so far beyond.
Yet this doesn’t mean I want to return to that era. Honestly, do we really want to go back to sacrificing animals and spilling their blood on the alter? Judaism was so incredibly different in that time, we wouldn’t even recognize it. We now satisfy our human desire for rituals and tradition through prayer and community. So barring any divine intervention, I don’t think the Temple is something we currently need to bring to fruition. I do think we need to remember it. The sages tell us that not remembering who we were as a people and forsaking one another is what lost us the Second Temple in the first place.
It is said that when Napoleon Bonaparte heard the Jews mourning for the Temple while walking the street of Paris, he responded with the conviction that a people who never forget their past are always destined to have a solid future. Third Temple or no Temple, I know that our collective mourning has held us together, despite our internal disagreements. I don’t care how many years go by; I don’t want anyone to ever, ever forget the Holocaust. I now realize it should be the same with the Temple. We don’t have to dwell on our tragedies as a people in everything we do, but setting aside one day a year to mourn is, oddly enough, the most progressive thing the Jewish people can do.
Everybody stop whining about how the mainstream media is biased to one side! I hear the same exact complaints from both sides on every single issue. The only mainstream media that exists anymore is a ratings race, and both sides draw enough criticism to boost numbers. You wanna know who the real media is now? It’s us. It’s all of us. And you know what? We’re dumb. We’re all really, really dumb.
To the people of Gaza; what follows is not directed at you. You are witnessing only one half of this conflict from the inside, and I cannot blame you for being a little biased. Neither can I blame fellow Jews and Israelis who are biased from being regularly forced into bomb shelters by rocket fire (although I do hold them to higher standards). It is very hard to see yourself through your enemy’s eyes, although I hope someday we can all learn to do so and the term “enemy” will be seen as far too extreme to be perceived rationally.
I do not agree with what your leadership has done to your people or your territory, but I don’t always agree with my leadership either. I won’t apologize for my people’s ability to protect its civilians when your leadership’s ideology is the murder of as many Israeli civilians as possible while we go out of our way to save yours. War is hell. Writing a rule book for it has always seemed oxymoronic to me, but whatever rules there are, we do play by them and then some. Yet I understand it is hard for you to see the greater picture when your innocent children are dying. With that said, I’ll let you be and address the real culprits of this rant.
To the young people who have never even left their country unless it’s been on their wealthy parents’ dime; the white people with no sense of identity who ultimately cling to the cause of another culture because it’s “hip”; who sit behind Facebook and Twitter and hashtag all day long among content that is neither original nor insightful; to the self-hating Jews with no sense of their homeland’s history; to the anti-Semites of Europe, the Middle East, and beyond; to the well-meaning ally who is too naive to recognize the influence of anti-Semitism on this world; this letter is for you.
First, a bit of a disclaimer: I really hate being one of the many voices out there in the madness. Yet given that all my pent-up emotions need to be expelled in some way to relieve me of my anxiety, this essay was inevitable. (That’s all being a writer really is, anyway; expelling pent up emotions and anxiety in a more elegant format.) While I admit my view on this is slightly one-sided, I have always tried my best to maintain an open mind, which is what I will continue to do as I address you. Besides, even though I have only experienced this conflict from one side, it’s more than you have personally witnessed, which is zero. So hear me out.
Do you have any idea how immensely complicated this conflict is? I’ve spent years studying it and the more I learn the more torn up I feel. And I don’t accept scanning through a BuzzFeed list of GIFs and memes as adequate research. Even the New York Times has become useless on this matter. No, to back up the loaded accusations you are hurling, you need to have gone to the source. Not a couple of interviews on YouTube; I’m talking books whose thickness rivals Tolkien works. Once you have done that, then you can come back to me and tell me how certain you are that Israel is in the wrong. I guarantee once you have done that you won’t be so certain about anything.
No one in their right mind is in favor of murdering innocent children. That’s not what Israel is doing, so stop oversimplifying it. Gaza is not under any type of military occupation; Israel left in 2005. Don’t try to tell me that Hamas is a “symptom” of Israeli occupation, because not only is that inaccurate, but you’re also justifying the killing of innocent people, which is what you claim to be protesting in the first place. The West Bank is a different matter, and I will say for the record I have been thoroughly disappointed with many of Netanyahu’s government’s actions there. Hamas was elected in Gaza in 2007. Instead of using the abundant resources that Israel had left behind to build their economy, they destroyed anything that was made by Jews and used their resources to build tunnels into Israel to kill soldiers and civilians. These tunnels were made by children, 160 of whom died doing so (in case you still think it’s the Israelis who are baby-killers). Only then was a blockade put in place to prevent importing of weaponry. Food, water, medicine, etc. are still allowed in and often supplied by Israel. Countries like Iran still just send weapons. Meanwhile, while the civilians of Gaza sink into poverty, Hamas’s bosses are living large. They brainwash their people to hate, provoke Israel, and when Israel must defend itself, they point to Israel’s retaliation to further their teachings of hate. They play on their people’s emotions, and they play on yours too. They know you’re going to react like this! You’re falling right into the terrorists’ game! Deliberately targeting civilians is a war crime, but one of which Hamas is guilty - not Israel. The Israelis have certainly not been saints, but Hamas does not have the moral high-ground here. If you believe in human rights, then you are against Hamas.
If you don’t believe me or any of my sources, like I said, read the history books.
If you insist that Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel are effective tools for your protestations, get ready to drop out of the modern world entirely. I guarantee you that your computer, cell phone, medications, and a myriad of other products you need to function in today’s society are some part or entirely Israeli. It’s not just hummus you’ll be sacrificing.
You may accuse me and other Jews or Israelis of jumping to anti-Semitism as a defense, but given our history and our present, can you blame us? Look at the rallies and riots throughout Europe and the rest of the world. I don’t believe Israel’s latest operation is increasing anti-Semitism; it is simply exposing the anti-Semitism that is already there, disguising itself as a cry for justice.
I rarely agree with Netanyahu, but I understand why he does what he does. He is of the generation that sees anti-Semitism as an undying plague, and no matter what the Jews do, no matter how successful or righteous we prove to be, someone will find a reason to hate us. Therefore, Israel must defend itself and do what it deems necessary, regardless of public opinion. After all, has public opinion ever saved us before? The Jews aren’t going to be victims anymore. Sorry if that makes us less endearing to you, but we have to take care of ourselves. If we don’t, no one else will.
Many self-proclaimed allies will contest they are not anti-Semitic, just against the actions of the Israeli army and/or government. While this can be a valid claim, I fear many of its claimants don’t realize how pervasive anti-Semitism truly is. Many of the anti-Israel arguments you well-intentioned allies are clinging to is just anti-Semitism dressed up as intellectual fervor. It is the same well-intentioned line of thinking that leads schools in California to ask their students to intelligently debate whether or not the Holocaust actually happened. Make no mistake; rationality can be a dangerous weapon when mixed with hatred. There is no rational debate when it comes to whether or not the Holocaust happened; it is pure fact. Yet when hatred comes along and plants the seed of doubt in an intellectual mind trained to use rational thought to draw a conclusion, the results can be alarming. “There must be some reason why everyone hates Israel so much. So many people can’t be so angry without a reason. There must be a rational explanation for it all.” Beware; there isn’t. Many people tried to use the same reasoning in Germany 70+ years ago, which ultimately led otherwise good people to tolerate or even condone the mass murder of 6 million people. It’s the same reasoning that leads otherwise good people to doubt the occurrence of that mass murder today.
There has been a video going around recently among more right-wing Jews about the irrelevancy of a “peaceful majority” in Islam. While I believe the speaker’s overall demeanor to be pitifully anti-Islamic in nature, she does make quite a few good points. My left-wing response to this is “yes, but it doesn’t have to be this way!” No “peaceful majority” has to be irrelevant, but they do have to take up that cause within their community. Muslims themselves are the ones who must stop Islamic extremism from hijacking their religion and using it for evil. A bunch of white people trying to solve the problem without any regard for culture, climate, or history is not the solution. Honestly, have we learned nothing from American and European history? That’s half the reason this debacle exists in the first place.
Speaking of history, stop making ad nauseum comparisons of the current situation in Gaza to the Holocaust. Or South African apartheid. Or the American civil rights movement. They’re really not the same things.
At the end of the day, this struggle is between Israel and Palestine. Jews and Muslims have a stake in the conflict as well because it is their brothers and sisters involved, although I would argue Jews more so because they are fighting for their one and only homeland. But the Israelis and the Palestinians are the people who need to work out their differences. Other nations can certainly be allies or mediators and brokers of peace, but your trendy hashtags are not liberating or aiding anyone on either side, and your hyperbolic rhetoric is doing more harm than good.
Please understand that I am not trying to generate a call to apathy. My point is not that you should stop caring. Quite the opposite, actually. My point is that you should care - care so much that you take the time to educate yourself. Are allies a good thing? Of course, and more often than not they are necessary. Should good people speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves? Absolutely, but for the love of God and all humanity, when you do speak up, please understand what you are talking about.
Elaine Stritch - “The Ladies Who Lunch”