Yesterday I was talking to my brother about Tisha B’Av. As a guy who grew up in a Reform Synagogue and is not currently practicing he did not know much about the day and why I care so much. I explained that this was the day we mourn the destruction of the Temples. He asked the logical question for a non-practicing Reform Jew: “Why do you care about mourning the temple?” I read him my list of the tragedies that have befallen our people in the last 2500 years. I read it to him as I do to myself each year. In a moment, I want to talk about what he said to me in reply. First, I’ll remind you that I showed him this list:
- 586 BCE: The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians.
- 70 CE: The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans.
- 132 CE: The Bar Kokhba’s revolt was overturned.
- 133 CE: Turnus Rufus plowed the site of the Temple and its surroundings.
- 1066: The Granada massacre took place on 30 December 1066 when a Muslim mob stormed the royal palace in Granada. They assassinated the Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacred most of the Jewish population.
- 1095: The First Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II in 1095, killing 10,000 Jews in its first month and destroying Jewish communities through Western Europe.
- 1190: The ninth of Av marked the day that the Jews of York, England were slaughtered
- 1290: The Jews were expelled from England.
- 1305: A mass imprisonment of the Jews in France
- 1492: The Jews were expelled from Spain.
- 1493: The Jews expelled from Sicily. About 137,000 Jews were exiled.
- 1496: The Jews expelled from Portugal and from many German cities.
- 1571: Italy ghettoized the Jews of Florence
- 1648: The Chmielnicki massacres occurred from in 1648-58. Tens of thousands of Jews were murdered throughout Poland and the Ukraine
- 1660: The destruction of Safed by the Druze occurred during the rein of sultan Mehmed IV. Both Safed and Tiberias had large Jewish communities that were destroyed entirely,
- 1670: Austria forced all Jews out of Vienna.
- 1775: Mob violence against the Jews of Hebron.
- 881–1884, 1903–1906, and 1918–1920: Three huge series of pogroms resulted in the murder of tens of thousands of Jews in Russia and Ukraine.
- 1914: On Tisha B’Av 1914 World War I began.
- 1942: On Erev Tisha B’Av the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka began.
- 1994: The Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina was bombed on July 18th, killing 85.
- 2006: The Seattle Jewish Federation shooting occurred on July 28, wounding 6, killing 1
- 2012: In Toulouse in the month of March 4 Jews were murdered simply because they were Jews.
- 2013: Upon completing his term in office the president of Iran says that one of the greatest achievements of his presidency is his Holocaust denial crap.
I explained to my brother my fundamental premise: even if I did not concern myself with the first and second temples; even though I do not believe that their destruction, the overthrow of the Bar Kokhbah rebellion, the Spanish expulsion, and the start of WWI all happened on the very same day; even if I refuse to pray for a return of the sacrificial cult; there are thousands of years of Jewish tragedies for me to mourn. So, I said, “I always mourn on Tisha B’Av.”
What my brother Rich said has inspired me to, once more, comment on the fate of the Jewish people this Tisha B’Av. He said: “Yeah but what about the fact that, no matter how bad things get, the Jews always manage to overcome and survive. Hey, the Germans tried to EXTERMINATE our whole race and we have managed to overcome even that! Why not talk about that?” So, here, my brother, is my comment on Jewish survival.
Adversity builds character. Adversity builds community. Adversity strengthens resolve. Adversity forces upon us the creativity necessary to overcome. Adversity offers the simple dualism of dying out or thriving.
Our people has been expelled from more places than one can even count. We have been beaten, raped, tortured, and forced to convert to other religions. We have been attacked, shot, burned at the stake, enslaved, stereotyped, lied about, pissed on, ghettoized, imprisoned, and hated by every manner of evil, weak, fool on the planet. Yet, YES, we survive. For thousands of years we have overcome everything from Egyptian bondage to concentration camps that could incinerate 10,000 of our gas-murdered bodies per day, to the bastards who would deny us even the right to mourn THAT Shoah. And, what have we given these countries and Peoples in return?
Great scientists, amazing musicians, the world’s most important writers, Nobel prize-winning economists, baseball greats, industrialists, boxers, medical advances, political giants, a world-class Israeli research university in the form of the Technion, painters, physicists, philosophers, and on, and on, and on. Why is that?
I’ll tell you why. It is because all the evil, murder, enslavement, hatred, and horror has forced us to make that binary decision between dying out and thriving. Between stagnation and achievement. Because we CHOSE to never allow our adversaries to destroy us but, rather, to use our strength of will to overcome. THAT, my brother, is why.
In 1899, Mark Twain wrote an essay on the Jews. It concludes:
“The Egyptian, the Babylonian and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains.” (emphasis is mine).
“ALL THINGS ARE MORTAL BUT THE JEW”
It is with Twain in the back of my mind that, as I read the book of Lamentation this Tisha B’Av, I will pray: Not for a return of the temples of the past, but for the resilient Jewish people of the future!
“ALL OTHER FORCES PASS, BUT HE REMAINS”.