Monday evening, July 19 through Tuesday July 20 brings the observance of Tisha b’Av, the day in the Hebrew calendar that saw the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, the first in 586 BCE at the hands of the Babylonians, the second in 70 CE by Rome (which is how our family lines became scattered throughout the world).
We will gather for the close of this day of mourning and fasting, on Tuesday July 20, at 6PM, when we will read Jeremiah’s Lamentation, his traumatizing depiction of Jerusalem in ruins. We will sit on the floor of the sanctuary and reflect on the confusing times in which we live: on one hand, Israel is restored for the 3rd time in human history, and there is laughter and fruitful life ongoing in the streets of Jerusalem and the cities of Israel; on the other hand, the threat to Israel’s future is real, and the world treats Israel differently than any other nation, as if only comfortable when Jews are victims, rather than capable of standing up for themselves and determining their own destiny.
Over the years I have mused that had I been an adult in charge of decision making for the reemergence of the Jewish state out of the ashes of the Shoah, in a world where no country of significance was willing to accept Jews who could escape the death camps, I would have suggested a different name than Israel. I would have chosen the name Judea, in acknowledgment of our being “Jews”, emerging as the surviving remnant of the larger kingdom of Israel that disappeared in 722 BCE, when moved out of the land at the hands of Assyria. When Israel disappeared, we survived as Judea, from “L’hodot HaEl”, which means “to thank God for being alive”. Judea is our survival name, and we have been surviving, since the time of the destruction of both Temples, for over 2500 years. We have kept alive in a world that historically, for the most part, has tolerated our existence, and at worst, yielded the Shoah, and now the mission of a significant minority of Islam that believes Israel should not exist in what they deem to be Islamic territory (the ideology of Hamas, which controls Gaza).
While Israel is now 62 years old, in the history of nations, that is just a day or a week; David’s kingdom lasted 40 years, as did Solomon’s. Israel safety, security, and future is far from certain, especially with the kinds of weapons now existing that Hamas and Hezbollah are attempting to put into place with the assistance and initiative of Iran.
The goal is to get to a day when the Jewish state can be free to be “Israel”, not a nation that continues to do what it must, popular or not, in its decision making, to survive, but to attain an era in which it dwells safely and at peace with all its neighbors. When that day comes, I would have envisioned a grand celebration of a change in name, as happened originally, when Jacob, the one who held on in overcoming the challenges of brother Esau, was blessed in his transformation as a capable partner with God and life, with the name Israel, the one who “wrestled effectively with God”.
To be “Israel” is to be secure in one’s identity and to know that life is meant to be a positive process of wrestling with, even hugging, people who are different, yet share transcendent values of caring and partnership in working steadfastly for and achieving a world of Shalom, of wholeness, wellness and peace.
So, join in the observance and conversation on July 20 as we conclude the day of sadness and trauma known as Tisha b’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, and mark the beginning of trending onward and upward toward the day of renewal, new beginning, and affirmation that we make this coming year the one that leads to Shalom in this world.
Tisha b’Av begins the process that will culminate in September with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, a new year of hope and anticipation, and Yom Kippur, the day of transformation, when humankind alters its behavior, allowing for the pure and joyous celebration of Sukkot, the harvest of humankind achieving oneness and wholeness in all our differences.
What’s in a name? What’s in your name? And what can you do, in living up to it, to contribute to the forces of achieving Shalom and justify God’s creation of the human being? I look forward to exploring these questions and the possibilities, as we bring Tisha b’Av to a close with hope and optimism.