When I was growing up , Tisha B'av really only had one meaning – do not. There was a series of "lo ta'ases" from the 3 weeks through the 9 days culminating in Tisha B'av: do not get your haircut, do not go out to a film, do not listen to music, do not eat meat, and then of course the big one – do not eat or drink. Tisha B'av was spent thinking about fasting, trying not to think about fasting, thinking about eating after the fast, trying not to think about eating after the fast etc etc.
This all changed for me when I was 17. I went to Bnei Akiva summer camp as a madricha. In the days leading up to Tisha B'Av we told the 100 or so kids that we were having a competition between the different groups as to who could build the most beautiful model of ancient Jerusalem. For hours and hours the kids worked together cutting, gluing, building and painting until each of the five groups had produced the most fantastic 3-D models of Jerusalem: houses and streets, buildings and trees, horses and carts and of course the Bet Hamikdash.
On Erev Tisha Bav the kids were told that the judging of the best model was finally going to take place. All the models were taken out into the courtyard – and they were truly beautiful. The kids waited with excitement to hear who had won the competition – who had made the best model of Jerusalem. But instead of announcing the prizewinner, we set fire to the models and burned them.
The look of horror on their faces, the tears – they have stayed with me till this day. Was it a cruel trick? Possibly. But for the first time ever I had a feeling of what Tisha Bav is actually about. And that feeling has stayed with me.
When you go to visit someone sitting shiva, you must talk about the deceased, even if it is easier to distract them by talking about something else. The only way to make the enormity of the Holocaust understandable is by reading about it, by going to Yad Vashem, by focusing on individual stories. And the only way to understand Tisha B'av is by trying to relive that time, the time when we had Jerusalem in its completeness, when he had Har Habayit, when we had the Bet Hamikdash and when we were truly "or lagoyim".
|Looking onto Har HaBayit from the spot on Har HaZeitim|
where the para adumah was killed.
On Tisha B'Av we can try and make the loss real by understanding what it meant then but also what it means to us today. I listen to Eicha and the Kinnot in Hebrew but I read them in English – because they give a powerful sense of what that loss is.
What does Tishah B'av mean to me? It means the destruction of Jerusalem, the end of our sovereignty, it means the galut, it means the Crusades, the pogroms, the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust. It means terrorism, it means nuclear Iran. It means hatred for Israel and for Jews all over the world. It means over 6 million Jews who do not recognize that the Geulah has begun and who therefore chose not to live in Israel. It means loss.