Dateline August 7: It’s my birthday, but today has much more significance than that. It’s not that the day goes by quickly. Today is literally a fast-day: a day of fasting on the annual Jewish calendar. Why are Jews around the world continuing a tradition of mourning today? It’s a matter of history. The first and second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on this day, over two thousand years ago. Our Jewish homeland was no more, and the nation of Israel seemed to meet its end.
But we know the updated version of this story – a nation returned to our homeland, a thriving Jewish presence in the land of Israel, in our free and democratic state reborn just decades ago. On Independence Day we celebrate. But today we still mourn. Why?
I’ll admit, I have a tough time with the texts that beseech God to return us to our land, to rebuild our cities and to give us the independence we once enjoyed, with religious freedom to worship and celebrate. It seems that by retaining the prayers of our exile we are not recognizing the miracle of our return in this very age. We must practice mindfulness and give thanks for the State of Israel in our lifetime.
So why continue to set aside an annual day to mourn a two-thousand-year-old loss?
The symbol of the Temple in Jerusalem is one of faith, caring, brotherly love and nationhood all mixed into one. Know your past, to shape the future. We Jews are well aware of the need to look back in order to move forward. History does tend to repeat itself and it is this that keeps us rooted to our past. We observe the laws of fasting on this special day, knowing that it gives us a chance to reflect and ask God to watch over us and protect our delicate future.
As the terrorist rockets rain down once more on our towns and homes, our children run for shelter. As Tel Aviv and Jerusalem join the southern front and the sirens call out to take cover, we continue to mark the ninth of Av with fasting and prayer. This fusion is a stark reminder that we are not all-powerful.
Giving it up to a higher source is both humbling and empowering. Introspection and a reality check are useful today – seeing ourselves as one link in the long history of our people gives a sense of both perspective and purpose. Yes, we are small, but yes too, we are mighty (and that’s not a reference to height! – RJL). And as we remember what was, through the mourning we reach the gift of knowing what’s right for the long run.
It’s my birthday, a day that would seem to focus on myself. One wish I’ve had for awhile now is to adopt a new tradition: Using the day to give blessings to others. It’s a little out of my comfort zone but I think I’d like to focus outwards and use this day to spread some good energy. So I’m going to try – this seems as good a year as any to start new traditions. As we introspect on this fast day, and listen for instructions to take shelter from incoming missiles from Gaza, I’ll add one more dimension today, reaching out on my birthdays to remember and to look forward in gratitude.