November 21, 2018

Temple Mount attracts record Jewish crowd on Tisha b’Av

Jewish worshippers pray in front of the Western Wall on Tisha B'Av on Aug. 1. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

More than 1,000 Jews visited the Temple Mount on Tuesday, a new one-day record for Jewish visitors.

At least 1,046 Jews visited the site on the observance of Tisha b’Av by early afternoon. More were expected to visit later in the day when the site reopens to visitors, Haaretz reported, citing Jewish Temple Mount activists.

The fast day marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

On Jerusalem Day, in May, some 900 Jews visited the Temple Mount.

The visitors passed through metal detectors at the Mughrabi Gate, the only one allotted for non-Muslim visitors to the site. They were required to leave their identity cards at the gate before entering.

Seven people were detained after fighting between Jews and Muslim worshippers at the site, according to Israel Police. Six Jews were arrested after praying there, according to reports.

Tens of thousands also were expected to visit the Western Wall throughout the course of the day after thousands gathered at the site on Monday night to read the Book of Lamentations.

The mass influx of visitors comes after nearly two weeks of tensions roiled the site over increased security measures, including metal detectors, following an attack on the Temple Mount that left two Israel Police officers and their three Arab-Israeli gunmen dead.

How Tisha b’Av can help us understand the refugee experience

A young girl waiting in line to pass through a border gate as a small number of Syrian refugees are allowed to return to Syria at the closed Turkish border gate in Killis, Feb. 8, 2016. Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

For many Jews, Tisha b’Av is centered around mourning the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. But that interpretation misses out on an important lesson that is made more relevant by recent events, Rabbi David Seidenberg argues.

With the release of a new translation of the Book of Lamentations, the main text read on the annual fast day, the Massachusetts-based rabbi argues that Tisha b’Av, which begins this year on the evening of July 31, provides a powerful way to connect to the refugee experience.

Here’s his translation of chapter 1, verse 3, which depicts a personified Jerusalem in exile:

“She, Judah, was exiled,
by poverty, and by (so) much hard labor
She sat among the nations,
not finding any rest;
All her pursuers caught up with her
between the confined places.”

Seidenberg, who runs the website NeoHasid and is the author of the book “Kabbalah and Ecology,” released a partial translation of the Book of Lamentations in 2007, but the 2017 version is his first complete translation of the text. He was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary and by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the late founder of the Jewish Renewal movement.

JTA spoke with Seidenberg about his translation, available for download here, and his thoughts on Tisha b’Av.

JTA: You write that “Tisha b’Av is not primarily about mourning, but about becoming refugees.”

Seidenberg: Jerusalem was a war zone [in 70 C.E.]. People were being killed in the streets. There was a siege, there was famine. Pretty much everyone was turned into a refugee, even the people that were left in Jerusalem, who weren’t exactly refugees, were still in the middle of a war zone and in the middle of violence.

The observances we have on Tisha b’Av, people think of as mourning customs. Of course we are mourning part of what it means to witness death and destruction, but the customs encompass a deeper, broader experience than just simple mourning, and that’s reflected in not washing, not sitting in a chair, which is both a symbol and the experience of not having a place of rest.

There are two ways to approach the whole experience of Tisha b’Av: One is to be empathizing with the nation, in a particularistic way, what happened to the Jews, and that’s an important part of our experience. And of course the other side is to empathize with the experience of what was happening, which is this experience of being refugees, being in a war zone. That would call on us to empathize with a lot of people who are not Jewish and a lot of people who are suffering in the world right now.

How can we reconcile these two perspectives — focusing both on the Jewish and the universal experiences?

The way we can empathize with an experience that is universal to human history of suffering — the consequences of war and exile and being refugees — is by going into our historical experience as Jews. In fact, you can’t really do one without the other.

You can be a liberal middle-class Jew who thinks that they care about refugees and has ideas and values that motivate you to act, but without going into the particularism of what the Jewish people have experienced, you also have a limitation. People have other ways of going into that experience — people go and work at refugee camps, that’s obviously a more direct experience. But for most Jews that aren’t experiencing that directly, one of the most powerful ways to get into that universal experience deeper on a gut level is to go through the particular experiences of the Jewish people in history.

Was the focus on refugees inspired by recent events?

I’ve thought about Tisha b’Av in this way for a good 20 years, but the past few years have really brought it into very stark reality because we see so many images of refugees. The refugee crisis isn’t just affecting us because we hear news, but it has also poisoned our political process, the rhetoric against refugees, not just in the United States but in many European countries. We’re living in this reality where if we don’t empathize with this experience, which is a human experience, people tend to go to opposite sides and dehumanize people who are in this crisis, and to reject them.

Rabbi David Seidenberg (Courtesy of Seidenberg)

Now that Jews have the State of Israel and can visit Jerusalem freely, what is the relevance of Tisha b’Av?

If we accept the rabbinic understanding of what Tisha b’Av is, it’s not that a foreign power conquered Jerusalem, it’s that Jerusalem undermined itself, hollowed itself out, by violating basic moral principles of what it means to have a good, fair society, so that it was already destroyed from within before it was destroyed from without. According to tradition, the First Temple was destroyed because of idolatry and murder, and the Second Temple was destroyed because of people hating each other in their hearts, ‘sinat hinam,’ which is a much subtler way of thinking of how a society gets undermined.

If we want to nominate any society in which sinat hinam is an endemic, deep problem, particularly with the polarization of right and left, Israel would be at the top of a list of nominees. I don’t wish to be partisan, but I think sometimes you can’t help it. The right-wing parties that are in control of Israel’s government have put a lot of energy into anathematizing, into demonizing, people on the left. And I think there’s hatred in many directions in Israel, but also the hatred against Jews from some quarters of Palestinian society and the hatred against Arabs and Palestinians from some quarters in Israeli Jewish society is lethal.

What’s different in this translation?

There’s a general idea of how to translate called idiomatic translation, which says that when you translate something from one language to another, when it goes from Hebrew to English, it should sound like idiomatic English, it shouldn’t sound weird or funny, it shouldn’t be in the word order or syntax of Hebrew, and that’s what the [Jewish Publication Society’s], which is the most common translation, is based on.

What that misses is the texture of the Hebrew, and so much of the feeling and emotional depth is in the texture, not just in the words, and so much of it is in the relationship between different words, because every biblical text is commentary on other biblical texts, and when a word uses the same root there’s a connection between those sources. Rabbinic Judaism is based on this midrashic idea that all of the Bible is commentary on the other parts of it.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Why I celebrate on a day of mourning

The sovereignty of the Judean kingdom in the land of Israel came to an abrupt end with the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the leading citizens to Babylon in 586 B.C.E.

Just over 2600 years ago, Babylonian armies destroyed the holy temple in Jerusalem, ransacked the ancient Kingdom of Judah, murdered scores of people throughout the kingdom (known as “Jews” – ie, the people of Judah), and hauled off scores more as captives, to the land of Babylon.

Fifteen years ago, around this very day, I stood on the edge of the land that once was a small city in that ancient Kingdom of Judah – on the exact spot where the city guard looked from his tower into the distance and saw flames of light extinguishing in surrounding towns. The ensuing darkness signaled that the Babylonians were approaching and the end was near.

A chill went through my spine.

While the rest of the people on the tour continued walking around the ancient city ruins, I stayed glued to that spot, feeling the warm breeze on my face, looking out into the expansive distance, imagining the terror that must have shot through the city people as they awaited their fates.

Their end was my beginning: the beginning of an exiled people in Babylon, who over the millennia transformed into a thriving, vibrant community — writing the authoritative Babylonian Talmud, launching the first ever Jewish learning institutions (yeshiboth, commonly known as yeshivas), and otherwise developing a rich and unique culture full of stories, music, language, spiritual teachings, architecture, prayers, dance, scholarly works, art, and religious rituals.

After nearly three millennia, my ancestors were sent packing once again: In 1950, my family was among the 100,000 Jewish refugees from Baghdad alone – forced to flee after a surge of anti-Jewish violence throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Most of these refugees, including my family, were absorbed by the modern state of Israel. As in hokey-pokey style: One foot in, one foot out.

While my grandparents, six aunts and one surviving uncle remained in Israel, my father continued his migration to Massachusetts, where he chose to go to graduate school.  There he met my mother, who had been on her way to New York from Colorado. When she’d gotten to the Massachusetts/New York fork in the interstate, however, she spontaneously decided to go north instead.

Together, they raised my sister and me as headstrong Iraqi Jews in Canada and California — teaching us the songs, prayers, religious rituals, food, personal and communal stories, Hebrew pronunciation, and a little of the language of Iraqi Jews.  (I can say the most important things in Judeo- Arabic: “watermelon,” “barefoot,” “hammer,” and “my stomach hurts.”)

I went on to disseminate this knowledge across the world, over the course of two decades, as part of my ground-breaking Jewish multicultural work. Still, as tirelessly as I worked, I could not re-create Jewish life in Baghdad. I was unable to undo the violence and destruction that Iraqi Jews had faced. I was unable to bring back everything that was lost in the upheaval and uprooting. I was unable, in short, to resurrect the Iraqi Jewish community — to bring it back to life as it once was, in bold Technicolor.

What’s worse, over the past few decades, those who grew up in Iraq have been growing old and dying. Meanwhile I have been isolated from so many of these people, for a number of complex reasons. I am an exile within a family and community of exiles. So where does that leave me?  Who am I?  And who will I be when the older generation passes?

Throughout the Jewish community around the world, thsa b’ab is a memorial day — a day of fasting, prayer, and commemoration.  It is a dark day, when people read paradoxically depressing yet triumphant stories about Jews who chose death over forced conversion, even when they had to watch their own children be killed before them. Today is also considered a day of terrible luck, replete with trembling fear, because the temple was destroyed not once, but twice on this day (the second time by the Romans, 656 years later).

I always have struggled with what exactly to do on this day. We are guided to actively induce a sense of grief and despair, so as to honor those before us and to remember being cast from freedom in our own land to captivity in someone else’s. But how, I wondered as a 14 year old in San Francisco, was I to do that, and what use was it anyhow? Actively feeling miserable and scared of moving all day long, because lordy knows what might go wrong next?

About a decade ago, I read an article by someone who suggested that this day actually should be one of celebration and honor: Yes, the temple was destroyed. Yes the kingdom was ransacked. Yes the people were hauled off as exiles. But look what’s come of it: vibrant Jewish life around the world, with the Babylonian exile reaching the far corners of the Middle East, North Africa, and Central, East, and South Asia, and the Roman exile stretching across all of Europe and the Americas.

As a Jewish multicultural educator, that spin resonated with me. Plus it was just so positive, so full of life and the pulsing rhythm of eternal change and transformation. It celebrated Jewish resilience and creativity and adaptation as a people, always surviving, always thriving, always pushing forward into new horizons.

And so, I realized, it is with me personally: Iraqi Jewish life is now gone, as Judean Jewish life once was gone as well. What stands in its place, in my shoes, is a vibrant, creative, pulsating mix of East and West, old school and cutting-edge, religious and secular, traditional and feminist. I express this mashup of perspectives by writing original songs for my band, Iraqis in Pajamas, which fuses punk rock with Iraqi Jewish prayers – making me a living, breathing, invigorating 21st century incarnation of all who came before me. Just like my Jewish ancestors on the rivers of Babylon, I am the beginning of something new.

And that is cause for celebration.

For two decades, Loolwa Khazzoom served as a pioneering Jewish multicultural educator, offering programs worldwide and publishing books and articles teaching about global Jewish heritage. She now channels her Jewish multicultural passion into her all-originals band, Iraqis in Pajamas, for which she is the singer, songwriter, and bass player.

We Are All Mourners Now and Again by Rabbi Janet Madden

Mourning girl

During the burning heat of summer, between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av— the saddest day of the Jewish calendar—Jews remember and mourn the Romans’ breach of the walls of Jerusalem, the sacking of the city and the destruction of the Second Temple. And we remember so much more: throughout history, the 9th of Av is the date on which we commemorate a series of profound Jewish losses.


We Are All Mourners

We Are All Mourners

This time of set mourning on the Hebrew calendar makes the Three Weeks a period of communal observance that is both specific and inclusive. It’s different from personal observances of Yahrzeits, the anniversaries of the deaths of beloved family members, or the four Yizkor services that provide public opportunities each year for mourning by those in our communities who have experienced bereavements. The Three Weeks, and especially their culmination, Tisha B’Av, mark specific traumatic experiences that resonate deeply within our collective Jewish historical consciousness. For me, moving mindfully through the Three Weeks is an annual reliving of mourning that tethers my mind and heart to Judaism in very particular ways.


I find deep comfort and meaning in communal mourning. When I am observing a Yarzheit, I feel set apart; my heart aches with the reminder of my personal loss even though I am saying Kaddish within the embrace of a loving community. It’s not that my heart aches less when we chant the Book of Lamentations—it’s that I am experiencing a different kind of loss. My heart aches differently. When we sit together on the floor and chant a text that is illuminated by a flashlight, we establish a special, intimate bond of shared grief with those who sit with us and with the entire Jewish community, past and present. For me, collectively connecting to our shared sadness reminds me that I am never alone.

Rabbi Janet Madden PhD was ordained by The Academy for Jewish Religion-California. She serves as the rabbi of Temple Havurat Emet and Providence Saint John’s Health Center and has been a student of the Gamliel Institute.

Rabbi Janet Madden

Rabbi Janet Madden

[Ed. Note: Rabbi Janet Madden has agreed to submit a series of entries for Expired And Inspired – watch for them to appear fairly regularly. — JB]




The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 2, Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah, online, afternoons/evenings, in the Fall semester, starting September 5th, 2017. This is the core course focusing on Taharah and Shmirah ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means.


The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

There is a Free preview/overview of the course being offered on Monday August 14th at 5 pm PDST/8 pm EDST. You are welcome to join us to decide if this course is one in which you would like to enroll. Contact or for information on how to connect to the preview webinar.

There will be an orientation session on how to use the platform and access the materials on Monday, September 4th, 2017, at 5 pm PDST/8 pm EDST online. Register or contact us for more information.

Information on attending the online orientation and course will be sent to those registered.


You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email, or phone at 410-733-3700.



Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (



If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.


Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.



If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.


What to in Los Angeles the week of July 21-27

July 27: ADL Summer Comedy Soiree



Come enjoy Shabbat with Adat Chaverim, Congregation for Humanistic Judaism. Bring a picnic dinner; drinks and desserts will be supplied. Shabbat service led by Cantor Jonathan Friedmann. 6 p.m. Free. Encino Park, 16953 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (888) 552-4552.


Join Young Adults of Los Angeles (YALA) for a vibrant and intimate Shabbat dinner hosted by Susan Schmidt, author of the Mexican-Jewish food blog Challa-peño. She and her family welcome you into their home for food, drink and a conversation about their Mexican-Jewish heritage and culture. Although the event is sold out, there is a waiting list. 7 p.m. $20. Private home in Brentwood; address provided upon RSVP.


Biblical and talmudic botanist Jon Greenberg will speak at a series of Shabbat meals about the meaning of the foods and beverages served. Friday’s 7:45 p.m. dinner topic will be “Milk & Honey: Blessing or Curse? Theology, Resilience and the Colors of Wine.” This two-day event continues at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, July 22, when the topics of discussion include “Noah’s Wine vs. Pharaoh’s Beer: The Barroom Brawl and Culture War That Shaped Jewish History” and, at 7:15 p.m., “Olives & Social Security: Edible Lilies, Egyptian God, Israelite Gourmet Export and Dutch Colonial Business Efficiency.” $38 per meal; $32 for members; discounts for children. Westwood Kehilla, 10523 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 441-5288.



Sinai Temple’s Atid group of 20- and 30-somethings presents a picnic in the park. Whether you’re married, engaged or it’s your first date, you are welcome at this afternoon picnic to celebrate Shabbat. Everyone should bring lunches for themselves (please prepare dairy/vegetarian meals). Atid events are for young Jewish professionals, ages 21-39. Noon. Free. Please RSVP at Holmby Park, 601 Club View Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.



Join Young Jewish Souls and renowned lecturer Rabbi Brandon Gaines, who will speak on the topic of observing the nine days leading to Tisha b’Av through ahavat chinam (loving others freely without judgment). There will be an open bar and dinner with shawarma, falafel and a salad bar to follow. 7 p.m. $15; $20 at the door. Ages 21-39 only. Must RSVP at Nessah Educational & Cultural Center, 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 273-2400.


In 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Acclaimed Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai blends the words of Rabin’s widow, Leah, with live music and projections to create a theatrical counterpoint to his 2015 film, “Rabin, the Last Day.” Actors Einat Weizman and Sarah Adler will read from Leah’s memoirs. 8:30 p.m. Part of the Ignite @ the Ford! series. Tickets start at $30. 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. (323) 461-3673.



Tisha b’Av, which begins this year on the evening of July 31, is one of the lesser-known days of the Jewish calendar. Rabbinical student Davina Bookbinder will share the history of this somber day — which commemorates the anniversary of various disasters in Jewish history, including the destruction of the First and Second Temples — and discuss the consequences it has had on our modern Jewish lives. After a catered lunch, there will be a screening of “The Fixer,” the 1968 adaptation of the Bernard Malamud novel about a Jewish man in czarist Russia. 11 a.m. $14; $16 for nonmembers. Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 316-8444.



Master of ceremonies Bruce Fine will be joined onstage by comedians Ian Bagg, Jeff Garlin, Chris Spencer and Wendy Liebman. Special guest Kosha Dillz also will be contributing with some of his freestyle rapping. 21 and older event. Two-drink minimum. Proceeds benefit the the Anti-Defamation League, fighting anti-Semitism and bigotry in all forms. 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $50; tickets available on The Comedy Store, 8433 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 446-4260.


Dress to impress and mix and mingle while toasting the summer and raising money for a good cause. All proceeds benefit The Guardians of the Los Angeles Jewish Home. Cocktail attire. 6 p.m. $18; $30 for two; $20 single tickets at the door; free for Guardian members. Tickets available at The W Hotel, 930 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles.

Will we still observe Holocaust Remembrance Day in the year 4017?

A torch can be seen during a ceremony marking the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, in Jerusalem April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

A stopover in Munich on Holocaust Remembrance Day. One of several Holocaust memorial days, as Israel’s isn’t the only one.

In Israel, it is a somber day. The radio tones down the music, cheery television shows are postponed, sports events don’t take place (and aren’t broadcasted), restaurants are closed, schoolchildren wear white shirts and stand as the siren soars. Cars stop on the side of the road. Pedestrians pause and bow their heads. Holocaust Remembrance Day engulfs Israel. It is the only place in the world in which this day is truly a much-felt day of mourning.

The date is meaningful, but one could set other dates to remember the Holocaust. Israel decided to mark its Remembrance Day eight days before Independence Day, six days after Passover, when the Omer is counted – a traditional period of mourning for Jews. This is also the time of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Israelis have gotten used to it. At least many have. The ultra-religious Haredi community is less inclined to mark it. Their Memorial Day for the Holocaust is the traditional Tenth of Tevet fast day. On this day, the Kaddish is recited for people whose date or place of death is unknown, including most of those perished in the Holocaust.

Then there are other dates in which the Holocaust is remembered. The international Holocaust Memorial Day, on January the 27, was notable this year mostly because of the awkward way the White House decided to mark it – omitting the Jews from its statement. And there are countries in which the Holocaust is remembered on other days. Poland, Bulgaria, France. Yet with time – and the seventy years that have passed since the Holocaust are a short period of time, although it might feel longer – a confluence of remembrance days is to be expected. Many countries will follow the international day. Some will follow Israel’s example. The Jews also have to make more than one decision.

They must decide whether the Holocaust needs a separate day of mourning – or whether the Holocaust ought to be remembered in one of the days already marked for mourning (such as the Tenth of Tevet).

They must decide how to mark the Holocaust, as survivors are becoming rarer and a new generation puts together a narrative of mourning for the ages.

They must decide if all Jews mark Holocaust day together – with or without the rest of the world – or whether different Jews follow different paths (Haredis will have their own day, other Israeli Jews their day, Jews in other countries their day – each community according to its convenience and habit).

Of course, calling all these things “decisions” is misleading. There is no authority entitled to make such decisions for all Jews. Holocaust Remembrance Day’s future will be determined by many forces – the government of Israel, Jewish organizations, communities, Jews. Assuming that a Memorial Day for an event as overwhelming as the Holocaust is immune to the eroding effect of the passing of time would be a mistake. Consider Tisha Be’Av: how many Jews today mark the most devastating day in Jewish history? Some do, many don’t.

A clear majority of Jews do not fast on Tisha B’Av. Those who do are mostly Orthodox Jews. Israel is closed on the eve of Tisha B’Av – because of a political decision. The law saves the eve of Tisha B’Av from becoming yet another summer day for a significant number of Israelis. The law serves to preserve Tisha B’Av as a day that Israelis can’t truly ignore. And even then, many do. They find a way around it. Or fume and call it religious coercion.

Is similar coercion also necessary to preserve Holocaust Remembrance Day? I guess the answer is no. Not yet. Holocaust Remembrance Day has much more emotional power over Israelis, and I assume all Jews, than Tisha B’Av. As much as it was horrible, the destruction of the Temple was a long time ago. It is not a personal experience for any living Jew. The Holocaust is still very much a personal experience. Even as survivors are getting older and older, their sons and daughters are still here, their grandchildren remember them, family trees are available for those who want to track their roots and mourn for the branches that were tragically severed.

But this does not mean that this day will stay as psychologically powerful as it is today without any effort. This does not mean that Israelis – and surely non-Israeli Jews who do share the same all-encompassing experience of the day – are not tempted to evade this day of emotional burden. Yesterday there were more than a few Israelis that were looking for a way to watch the important and tense soccer match between Barcelona and Real Madrid (Barcelona came out on top). In Israel, television stations are forbidden by regulations to show it. And yet, it is there, played in Spain, where Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day is just another day. It is ridiculous to expect any country to suspend its activities when Israel mourns. And so the result is obvious: some Israelis will feel an urge to do something on Holocaust Remembrance Day that is joyful and everyday-like. And the internet is there to help those of them who want to circumvent the state-regulated TV stations.

Should Israel ban those Israelis from doing what they want? Even beyond the futility of such attempts, due to technological changes that make us less dependent on traditional TV stations, it is not obvious that it should. One could argue that forcing Israelis to observe Holocaust Remembrance Day is not much different from forcing them to observe Shabbat. In other words: if the country has the authority to decide how its public observes a certain day – then all days are open for negotiation. Why Holocaust Remembrance Day and not Pesach (no bread by law)? Why close cafes on Holocaust Remembrance Day and not the beaches too?

On the other hand, we know from experience that if the state does not insist on certain limitations and does not impose certain traditions – the public might abandon these traditions, not because it does not recognize their value but rather because it is, well, lazy and easily tempted. Yes, there is a Holocaust Remembrance Day, and we all recognize its importance, but can we resist the urge to sneak a peek at Lionel Messi? Yes, we put high value on mourning today, but would this day have the same staying power if school-children were on vacation this week, as they are on Tisha B’Av (hence, no school tutelage and ceremonies to educate children to mark Tisha B’av)?

As we remember the Holocaust, we are obliged to think about these highly practical matters. We must think about them as we are the first generation of Jews that will soon have to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day without any survivors around to tell us their stories. We are the first generation of Jews that will soon be sharing the burden of having to shape a Remembrance Day for the ages. Tisha B’Av survived for 2000 years, and is still with us. Can we guarantee such staying power for Holocaust Remembrance Day?



Do we believe in sacred space?

When you think of a sanctuary, what do you think of? Your synagogue? Your kid’s day school? Your grandmother’s house?

Now what about tragedy? Do you think of a loss of a friend? Terrorism? The Shoah?

We’ve just finished the three-week mourning over two destroyed Temples. It’s the time when we come face to face with these questions more viscerally than we do any other time of year. We’re asked to deeply consider what a lost sacred space meant to us. And we’re asked to think deeply about the tragedy of losing it.

It’s also the time when most of us put up our hands and have no idea how to feel the way our religion asks us to.

Some of that frustration comes because, simply, we lost the Temple a very long ago. But perhaps some of that frustration comes because we’re thinking about sacred space in the wrong way. And we’re thinking about tragedy the wrong way. 

To see what I mean, consider the closing passage of Exodus.

The Israelites have nearly completed their first massive building project: the Mishkan—the proto-Temple which they will carry through the Desert and into Israel. They have donated golds, silks, wool, silver, and copper. They have given time and talent. They do this because God has said: You shall build me a Mishkan—a Dwellingthat I may dwell amongst you.

The people build God a dwelling; and then God comes down and dwells in it—in the form of a cloud:

When Moses had finished the work, the Cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the Presence of HaShem filled the Mishkan.

This cloud, of course, should have ended the story. Then the narrative would flow directly into Leviticus, which describes the ceremonies that will take place in the Mishkan, where the Cloud is. The building is made; God settles in it; here is what you do in that building.

But that isn’t what happens. Instead, we hear one more detail:

When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on their journeys. But if the cloud did not lift, they would not set out until it lifted up.

Once we hear about the Cloud, we hear that, later—after the entire book of Leviticus has passed—the Cloud will be used for navigation. And indeed, the narrative elaborates on this detail in the book of Numbers—where it makes sense, coming at the moment when the people prepare their journey from Sinai and across the Desert:

And whenever the cloud lifted from the Tent, the Israelites would set out accordingly; and at the spot where the cloud settled, there the Israelites would make camp.

But here at the conclusion to the construction of the Mishkan, the detail makes no sense.

So why is it here?

To answer that question, it’s useful to think about the trauma involved in this journey—this following of the Cloud. In every encampment, the people rest around the Mishkan. The Cloud is right there, so close the people can see it with their own eyes. And then, when it’s time to move, the Cloud rises up. And because the Mishkan is modular, the priests deconstruct the structure to carry it on its way.

One moment, God’s presence is within arm’s reach. The next, we’re alone and lost and exposed in the Desert. The people’s whole world comes apart, over and over throughout the course of forty years. This is the kind of trauma that could fill a people with despair.

But the people don’t fall into despair. They do something else. They watch to see where the Cloud will go next. And they follow it. Because they know that sometimes, when your world ends, it’s God’s sign to seek Him in a place you couldn’t have foreseen.

Here’s the point. Making room for God on earth is more complicated than building a space we can go to and sit back and receive Him. It’s building a framework for seeking Him out. And sometimes that means embracing the end of your world. And sometimes that means being willing to upend your life, over and over, as you radically change your perspective of where God might be—of where you need to be to find Him.

That’s not sacred space. It’s something much more difficult. It’s a sacred journey. And that is what the Mishkan stands for.

That’s useful to think about as we stand this week, at Shabbat Nachamu, in the aftermath of the destruction of the Temple—the structure that evolved from that Mishkan in the Desert. Because maybe we’re standing at the end of our sacred space, at the end of our world. Or maybe sacred space is too simple of an idea. Maybe we’re just ending a chapter in the story—and the next leg of the journey has just begun. It’s up to us to find God in the next place. 

Abe Mezrich is the author of The House at the Center of the World,” a book of meditations on Biblical ideas of sacred space from Ben Yehuda Press.

Fasting in the lands of the midnight sun

Though the summer season in Northern Europe may be brief, summer days here can seem endless because of how late the sun sets.

In the Norwegian capital of Oslo, for example — which has a latitude that’s just 4 degrees south of Anchorage, Alaska — the summer solstice in late June brings almost 19 hours of daylight. By mid-August it drops to 15 hours, 36 minutes — nearly two full hours longer than in New York.

This is good news for hikers and sun-starved Scandinavians — after all, a feature of Oslo’s bitterly cold winters are the punishingly long hours of darkness.

But the long days come with their own challenges for Northern Europe’s observant Jews and Muslims, who on some days fast according to when the sun rises or sets. That will be the case for Jews on Tisha b’Av — an annual day for mourning the destruction of the Jewish Temple that this year begins at sunset Saturday and continues until nightfall the following day.

“It’s by far the hardest fast of the year because of the long daytime and the heat,” said Yanki Jacobs, a Chabad rabbi in Amsterdam, where sunset will end after 10 p.m. next week.

“If it definitely makes a difference if you can eat at 8 p.m. or at 11,” said Jacobs, who also confided that he is hoping for a cool, rainy weekend because “it’s harder to fast when it’s warm.”

Rabbi Joav Melchior, the chief rabbi of Norway, concurs with Jacobs’ view of Tisha b’Av as the toughest fast of the year.

“In principle it shouldn’t be more difficult to fast in summer because ‘yom tov’ [Hebrew for ‘holiday’] also enters late,” said Melchior, who grew up in Israel.

But in practice, “it feels much longer in the north because sunsets, which in Israel take about 20 minutes, stretch on for hours in Norway,” he said.

In the Netherlands, where dinners are typically eaten at the relatively early hour of 6 p.m., many Jews are used to turning in long before Tisha b’Av begins — leaving them the option of either staying up late to fill up on food or fast for well over 24 hours.

In this regard, Scandinavia’s observant Jews are in the same boat as its observant Muslims, who languish until later at night whenever the month of Ramadan, when Muslims may only eat and drink after dark, falls during the summer.

But a long day is only part of the reason that the Tisha b’Av fast seems more difficult than the one on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for Jews, which occurs in autumn, according to Melchior.

“On Yom Kippur, you spend the whole day in shul, praying, thinking, reflecting with others,” he said. “You don’t even realize you’re fasting because you have so many other things on your mind.”

But Tisha b’Av is “far less central” a holiday for Norwegian Jewry, which “means you spend a lot of time alone, fasting in your own house and ending up noticing that, hey, you’re actually fasting and can’t eat or drink.”

In Norway, government rules about holidays don’t exactly encourage fasting on Tisha b’Av, according to Melchior.

“Non-Christians are entitled to two free days annually by law, when Judaism has six to eight days when work is not permitted,” he said.

While many employers allow observant Jews and Muslims to take off extra days out of consideration for their faith, most reserve those days for holidays seen as more religiously significant.

According to Jacobs, in the Netherlands, public awareness about Ramadan, when employers often take their Muslim employees’ needs into consideration even when it’s not legally required, has also increased awareness of Jewish fasting days.

But this is not a development felt by Melchior in Oslo.

“More often,” he said, “the reaction in Norwegian society to the Jewish fast days is: ‘What, you guys fast, too?'”


Marking Tisha b’Av during a long, hot summer

As the fast day of Tisha b’Av approaches, the summer heat and humidity is rising.

That got me thinking: Does the solemn day have the stuff to raise our consciousness as well?

Tisha b’Av — this year it begins on the evening of Saturday, August 13 — marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples, as well as other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. Traditionally, it’s a time to remember and mourn those events, and that Jews have been a historically oppressed people.

But this summer — perhaps more than any other in recent memory — I wondered if there was room to remember the struggles of others on this mournful occasion. On this sad day — when we are not supposed to eat, drink or have sex — it’s hard to ignore those in our own time who are experiencing tragedies as a people, or whose lives are being destroyed, some more than others.

Tisha b’Av is a day to reflect on the lasting damage of violence — both of police officers slain and the too many black men who have fallen victim to police violence. Do we pass over them on this day, and focus solely on our own grief? Or do we take a more universal view of Tisha b’Av, and use the day when we are already grieving to find a way to respond to the tragedies around us?

The day’s liturgy pushes us toward our own present-day cities and communities. The Book of Eicha, or Lamentations, which is traditionally read on this day, calls to us from across the millennia, shifting our attention to the now. When he hear the opening line about Jerusalem — “Alas! Lonely sits the city” — we could just as easily be talking about Dallas, or Baton Rouge. The next verse, “Bitterly she weeps in the night,” reminds us of the tears shed over the shootings of black, unarmed men.

Some have already heard that call. At an evening vigil in New York last month, organized by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice — a group which says it is “inspired by Jewish tradition to fight for a sustainable world with an equitable distribution of economic and cultural resources and political power” —  Shoshana Brown, a Jew of color and a JFREJ leader said, “As we enter the weeks leading to Tisha b’Av, this is a sacred time for Jews to take a stand against atrocities happening right now, as we also remember those that have happened to us in the past.”

To me, Brown is suggesting Tisha b’Av can be a remembrance that recalls both the ancient as well as the “right now.” But what would that look like?

There is a tradition, after he final meal and before the Tisha v’Av fast begins, of partaking in a Seudah HaMafseket, a spare “separating meal” consisting of water and a hardboiled egg and bread dipped in ashes, which is eaten in solitude, creating a space for contemplation.

Why these foods? The humble egg reminds us of how hard life can become — and I think, how hardened we, too, can get to the conditions and injustices that surround us, to the point where we live in a shell. (Do we really understand just how dangerous it is for law enforcement to go out on the streets in our armed society? In a world where eyes have been culturally trained to surveil any person of color, do we really understand what it’s like to be constantly under suspicion?)

Tasting the bitter ash, itself a product of destruction, allows us to consider the consequences of living a life based solely on Hillel’s maxim, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” that then ignores the remainder of the famous phrase,“But if I am only for myself, who am I?” and “If not now, when?”

Fasting on Tisha b’Av, too, takes us out of our comfort zone, allowing us to clear more than our stomachs. Traditionally, we fast to mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples, and the conditions of baseless hatred which led up to those terrible acts. But on this very long day of going without food or water, waiting for the sun to set, who does not have the time to reflect upon the baseless hatreds, both racial and ethnic, that roil our own times, in our own cities? At a moment when I am contemplating the loss of the Temple, will an image form as well of police battling protestors of recent shootings ?

Fortunately, however, Tisha b’Av isn’t just about sitting around and being sad. It’s also traditional to give tzedakah and spread a little hope. On this day of remembering tragedy, we can also use our funds to respond to crises in our midst.

Tisha b’Av and our history teach us to recover from destruction, to mend the broken. For example, after the killing of five police officers in Dallas, Texas, Congregation Ohev Shalom there raised over $2,000 to help one of the families of the officers slain. JFREJ has worked for police accountability and reform.

In Eicha, too, hope can be found. Though our national text of pain is filled with death, anger and “harsh oppression,” by its end, we see that our days can be renewed “as of old!”

But that doesn’t happen automatically. Eicha says we can “search and examine our ways” — meaning, with some introspection combined with some action, we can all return to the guiding Jewish principle to love and respect our neighbors as ourselves.

God will be our visitor

The Jewish family is in a constant state of mourning. Most of the time, we push our mourning to the back of our collective consciousness and carry on our daily lives as if we’ve suffered no loss. Once a year, though, we allow the misery and pain of our tortuous 2,000-year Diaspora to creep into view and dominate our emotions.

That would be Tisha b’Av, our day of mourning. We cry for all that we have lost, for all that could have been, and for a compromised national identity that was detached from our homeland for so long and without its glorious monument to our God. Once a year, we sit on the floor in agony and feel the dormant pain in our souls.

Mourning is a metaphor that helps us cope with Tisha b’Av, which this year begins on the evening of July 25. Metaphors can help us relate to challenging concepts and they can also shine new light to our traditions and rituals.

Jewish mourning is unique, and the concept of sitting shivah has even been popularized in media and popular culture. If we are mourning on Tisha b’Av, we are sitting shivah on Tisha b’Av.

I see the entire Jewish family sitting on the floor together, sitting shivah together, crying together and mourning together. On Tisha b’Av, our synagogues and prayer gatherings become our shivah homes.

But something is incomplete. One player is missing from the metaphor.

Who will do the mitzvah of nichum aveilim — comforting the bereaved? If we are all mourners, we cannot comfort each other. A shivah with no visitors to comfort the mourners compounds the pain of loss. Have we been so abandoned that no one will come to pay a shivah call to us? Who will comfort us this Tisha b’Av?

It has to be God. Our comfort will come from God.

God is our Menachem (“comforter”). God “visits” us on Tisha b’Av. That’s why we go to synagogue to mourn. Generally, it’s easier to feel God’s presence in synagogue, so we mourn in God’s House. But the Jewish laws of comforting mourners require that the visitor wait for the mourner to speak first. When the mourner is ready to talk, the visitor listens and responds as appropriate. Listening is the most powerful tool in our comfort toolbox.

The character Sadness from the new Pixar movie “Inside Out” taught the world this important lesson when she just listened to Bing Bong and gave him a shoulder to lean on. Somehow, that helped him feel a lot better. A mourner just needs someone to listen.

God is our Visitor. God is sitting in the shivah house. God is just waiting to comfort us. But we need to speak first. We have to give God the opportunity to listen. God is ready to listen; we just need to speak.

Eikhah (Lamentations) and kinnot (expressive religious poems) are our chance to speak. We cry, we lament, we wail, we contemplate, and through the experience, we acknowledge our pain. God listens while we speak. But first we talk. We talk to God about our pain; the new pain and the old. Eikhah and kinnot give us a chance to speak first and it is our way of granting God permission to comfort us.

This Tisha b’Av, let us be conscious of our mourning. Let us imagine ourselves experiencing shivah together in God’s House. Let us remember that we have not been abandoned. God is coming to comfort us. Let us allow God to comfort us by speaking to him first and acknowledging our suffering with our words. Let us experience God’s “shivah call” and may we merit to feel God’s comfort. Let us hope and pray that this year we will get up from shivah after Tisha b’Av and never feel the spiritual agony of Tisha b’Av ever again.

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink is a rabbi in Beverly Hills. He blogs at

Tonight, we do not study Torah: Parashat Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1–3:22)

For many years, Tisha b’Av was off the radar of the national Israeli narrative. Many Israelis viewed the ancient day of fast as an antiquated observance lacking contemporary relevance. Some argued that Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron are the “new Israeli Tisha b’Av,” and — especially after Jerusalem was reunited in 1967 — the ongoing mourning over Jerusalem seemed outdated.

Despite these feelings, beginning the evening of July 25 this year and lasting through the following night, millions of Jews around the world — including here in Israel (where I’m staying for the summer) — will observe the day of fast, mourning the destruction of both Temples that once stood in Jerusalem. Why do we continue to fast and mourn on Tisha b’Av?  

In his introduction to the Book of Genesis, the Netziv (19th-century rosh yeshiva and rabbinic scholar) provides a powerful description of what happened on Tisha b’Av:

The Jewish community of the Second Temple period was a crooked and perverse generation. True, they were Tsadikim (righteous) and Hasidim (pious), and among them lived many great Torah scholars. However, they were not Yesharim (upright and just) in their daily conduct toward one another. Therefore, as a result of the deeply rooted Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) toward each other, each person looked upon his own religious behavior as being the only legitimate form of religiosity, and whoever did not believe or behave according to that form of religiosity was labeled a heretic. This perverse form of thinking led to zealotry, murder and the deepest divisiveness within the Jewish community. 

In the Mishneh Torah (code of Jewish law), Maimonides takes the historical narrative one step further:

There are days when the entire Jewish people fast because of the calamities that occurred to them then, in order to arouse their hearts and initiate them in the paths of repentance (teshuvah). This will serve as a reminder of our own wicked conduct and that of our ancestors, which resembles our present conduct, and therefore brought these calamities upon them and upon us. By reminding ourselves of these matters, we will repent and improve our conduct. 

Maimonides teaches that on Tisha b’Av, we are not only mourning the actual loss of the Temples, but are lamenting and reflecting upon our poor behavior that led to their destruction.

Maimonides emphasizes that the power of Tisha b’Av comes when we conduct a moral check-up on the state of internal affairs in the Jewish world. In addition to fasting and reading the Book of Lamentations, we also must conduct symposiums on what’s happening in our own Jewish communities today. But does this happen? Are Jewish communities willing to search deep within to see what requires tikkun (repair)?

One Jewish community is willing to do this. Its name: Israel. 

On Nov. 4, 1995, when an Israeli Jew pulled the trigger on his own prime minister, Israelis were shocked into understanding the timeless message of Tisha b’Av. The concept of Sinat Chinam was alive and present in Israeli society, and had now reached its low point.

On the first Tisha b’Av after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, a group of young Israelis — religious and secular — decided to get together and hold a symposium on what was going wrong in Israeli society. In light of Rabin’s assassination and the deep polarization it reflected within Israeli society, it was time to bring Tisha b’Av and its lessons of Sinat Chinam back into the discourse of Israeli society.

Every Tisha b’Av thereafter, the small group grew in size, until one person had the brilliant idea of turning this symposium into a nationwide program, an idea that succeeded thanks to an ingenious marketing campaign. 

On Tisha b’Av, it is prohibited to study Torah (the exception being the Book of Lamentations, or any section of the Talmud dealing with the destruction of Jerusalem). The organizers who sought to spread their Tisha b’Av program throughout Israel named this new initiative Ha-Layla Lo Lomdim Torah — “Tonight, We Do Not Study Torah.” They picked themes related to burning issues within Israeli society and chose panelists who would attract large crowds. This marketing campaign caught the eyes of thousands of Israelis, who started to become interested in Tisha b’Av.

On July 25, there will be 24 Ha-Layla Lo Lomdim Torah symposiums throughout Israel. The panels will feature Sephardim and Ashkenazim, religious and secular Israelis, members of Knesset, rabbis of all denominations, educators, authors, entertainers and social activists. Together, they will sit on the floor, as is the custom on Tisha b’Av, and engage in dialogue about how to improve Israeli society.

When a friend asked me how I observe Tisha b’Av in Jerusalem, I told him I go to the Kotel to mourn the past and attend the symposiums to contemplate the future. I walk away from the Kotel feeling sad, but from the symposiums, I walk away filled with hope. 

These special gatherings are paving the way for the vision of the prophet Zechariah, who predicted that one day Tisha b’Av will become a day of rejoicing. Israelis from all walks of life are talking to one another on Tisha b’Av. That in itself is cause to rejoice.

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila is the director of the Sephardic Educational Center (SEC), an international organization with a campus in the Old City of Jerusalem. 

Hillel, Tisha b’Av and the war in Gaza

Tisha b’Av, the day in the calendar that commemorates the evil that has been done to the Jewish people over time (most especially the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem) is nearly upon us. Each of us responds differently to the day. Many Jews will use Tisha b'Av as an occasion to revisit the traditional narrative of Jew as victim. Given the Jewish people’s long history of persecution that is quite understandable. For me, it is an opportunity to consider what Hillel referred to as the essence of the Torah, “that which is hateful to you, do not do unto others” (in the interest of full transparency, I must acknowledge that whenever I am faced with a challenging question I always try to think, “what would Hillel do?”).
On Tisha b’Av we will read from the Book of Lamentations, which describes the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the horrors and suffering endured by those Jerusalemites who survived. We will also recall the Chorban by the Romans of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in the year 70 AD. When I do so I can’t but help think of the stories in the Talmud and from Josephus of how the Biryonim and the Sicarii (groups of Zealots who objected to Roman rule) acted to force other Jews in Jerusalem to fight the Romans. In fact, Yochanan ben Zakkai had to be secreted out of Jerusalem in a coffin as the Zealots would not allow residents to leave the city.
I see an obvious parallel between the Jerusalemites at the time of the destruction of the First and Second Temples and today’s innocent residents of Gaza. I certainly do not mean to compare Israel’s actions to those of either Babylonia or Rome. And I understand that the war Israel is waging is a just war against Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other fundamentalists who are Nihilists only too happy to sacrifice the lives of innocent Gazans for political and public relations gain. However, as Hillel taught, “that which is hateful to you, do not do unto others.” And we Jews have been there. We know from the story of Yochanan ben Zakkai (Gittin 56a-b) the plight of those in Jerusalem who did not support the Zealots, but nonetheless were used by them as pawns and died at the hands of the Romans. We experienced what today would be called a “humanitarian crisis”-the deaths from hunger, thirst, and disease-following the sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
Understandably the emotions of Israelis and Jews around the world are incredibly raw right now, which makes it that much harder to see ourselves standing in the shoes of the people who we associate with tunneling under Israel’s border and firing thousands of rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians. We must force ourselves to remember that the vast majority of Gazans are not combatants in this war (and this is true even for those who voted for Hamas in the last election back in 2007-for those of you in the States reading this piece, who would want to be considered complicit in the Vietnam War? A war which was conducted by a duly elected American government). We should try to see ourselves as the mother or father whose house was destroyed, worrying about where our family can stay as the fighting rages on around us; and when there is no electricity, no food, no water.
A country owes its primary obligation to its citizens. The effectiveness of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system combined with the depletion of Hamas’s stockpile of rockets and the degradation of Hamas’s tunnel network means that Operation Protective Edge has succeeded in saving the lives of countless Israelis over the last month and on into the future. Israel has been justified in its actions during the war, complying with international norms as it seeks to protect the lives of its citizens while at the same time employing due precaution in an attempt to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza. However, at some point we as Jews need to go beyond the letter of the law (lifnim m’shurat ha’din).
We need to understand that thousands and thousands of lives of innocent Gazans are in jeopardy (not just potential injury and death associated with the continuation of Israel’s military campaign, but from the attendant destruction of the infrastructure necessary to support 1.7 million people in a densely populated space). As much as we want to finish off Hamas we must reflect on our obligation to the human beings caught in the cross fire and give serious consideration to unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza. It is contemptible that Hamas does not care about the lives of their fellow Gazans, but that does not release us from the obligation to do so-in fact, it is the Jewish thing to do!
Jeffrey Schwarz is a board member and supporter of numerous American Jewish organizations.

Learning to argue on Tisha b’Av

As we approach Tisha b’Av, the State of Israel is at war. The day’s commemoration of sorrow and pain, and urgent calls for introspection and reflection, couldn’t be coming at a more needed time.

On Tisha b’Av we take upon ourselves the burden, and the grace, of our connection to all Jews past, present and future, in times of suffering, as in times of joy. Maintaining that solidarity isn’t easy, and it takes work, on Tisha b’Av itself, and the whole year through.

Jews love to argue, above all with one another. The higher the stakes, the higher the decibels, and at times, things can get ugly, and worse. This current war has fostered much consensus within Israel, but large arguments are not far beneath the surface, and outside Israel they are out in the open. Can we argue with one another and still remain whole?

From the Bible onward, death and destruction have been seen not only as challenges to overcome but as occasions for us to come to grips with our own flaws and responsibilities. The Second Temple, the rabbis of the Talmud famously said, was destroyed in 70 CE because of “sinat chinam,” literally free hatred, or hatred for no reason.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook (1865-1935), the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of modern Palestine and the leading theologian of religious Zionism, famously said that the Temple will only be rebuilt through “ahavat chinam,” freely given love. But in light of current events, and the heated debates they have unleashed, it’s worth focusing on a different dimension of Rav Kook’s teachings — and that is how to fight with one another.

Today’s debates are ferocious, but so were the Jewish arguments of the last century.  Zionists, socialists, nationalists, Orthodox traditionalists, liberals and more argued intensely, often bitterly, over how best to secure Jewish physical and cultural survival. Kook, who made aliyah from Eastern Europe in 1904, found himself at the center of those debates and tried, with the aid of vast learning, theological daring and his own richly conciliatory personality, to find a way to forge some kind of peace while honoring the integrity of different positions.

In one of his reflections, he wrote, arrestingly, that three forces are at work within all people: “the holy, the nation, humanity.” The revolutionary changes of modern times have torn them apart, yielding, among Jews, three different, regularly antagonistic  currents — nationalism, liberalism and Orthodoxy.

All three have truth on their side, and must try to appreciate one another — not by wishing away disagreement but recognizing the integrity of each other’s positions: Nationalism’s rootedness in real love of one’s community, Orthodoxy’s rootedness in a flaming desire for God, liberalism’s rootedness in an ultimately divine perspective of all humanity as created in God’s image.

What synthesizes all three elements — religious commitment, national identity and ethical universalism — is, Kook continues, a sacred energy deriving from and driven by God.

Kook urges us to engage in a studied appreciation of our ideological opponents and the genuine values animating them, while also taking a genuine stand on behalf of the ideals in which we ourselves truly believe. He urges each one of us to recognize not only that our opponents are fellow human beings – and, in the context of intra-communal debates, fellow Jews — but also that they have a piece of the truth that may be unavailable to us. God and His truth are large, and He speaks as best He can in a tortured, fragmentary world.

Much has changed since Kook’s time: Party and ideological lines have shifted, and the Jewish people have been faced with crueler fates and more complicated dilemmas than he could have imagined, stemming both from ultimate victimhood and newfound power. But his ideas point toward a way of thinking, of arguing, passionately and heatedly, while keeping a sense of our ultimate solidarity alive.

There is one caveat: The ideological combatants with whom Rav Kook engaged were all, each in their way, passionately committed to Jewish survival, to the well being of other Jews, and were willing to live out their commitments and live with the consequences. When we urge our positions on our fellow Jews, that is the test we have to pass, the hard question we have to ask ourselves, on Tisha b’Av and every day.

(Yehudah Mirsky teaches at Brandeis University’s Schusterman Center for Israel Studies and is the author of the recently published “Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution.”)


One group’s proposal for Mideast peace? Build the Third Temple

As Egypt, Qatar, the U.S. and the U.N. write proposals for Israel-Hamas cease-fires, one organization based in Jerusalem’s Old City hopes to compose a peace plan of a different kind: a detailed architectural blueprint for the Third Jewish Temple on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

The Temple Institute, which has recreated 60 vessels to be used in a Third Temple and which sponsors educational programs about the temple worldwide, has created a $100,000 Indiegogo campaign to draft plans for a Third Temple.

Building the temple, says the Indiegogo campaign statement, would “usher in a new era of universal harmony and peace,” as prophesied in the Bible.

“It is not enough to wait and pray for the Third Temple,” the statement added. “It is a Biblical obligation to build it.”

According to Rabbi Chaim Richman, the institute’s international director, the temple would stand in the present location of the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine. Muslims revere the mount as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.

But Richman did not set a target date for breaking ground for the construction project. The temple will be built, he told JTA, when “the world will want us to build the temple.”

“The Jewish people have a responsibility to all of humanity, including Islam,” Richman said. “I don’t expect it to come about through any sort of confrontation or any sort of military maneuver. The Jews have to represent good in the world, light in the world.”

The Indiegogo campaign is tied to the upcoming fast of Tisha b’Av, which mourns the First and Second Temples’ destruction. Richman quoted the verse in Isaiah calling the temple “a house of prayer for all nations.”

But recently, the Temple Mount has been the scene of confrontation. Palestinian groups have repeatedly protested Jewish groups visiting the mount in recent weeks. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told JTA that on Saturday, a group of Palestinian rioters burned and heavily damaged the police stand on the mount.

Referring to these incidents, Richman said the mount “is overrun by terrorists. This is a tangible fact.” He said rebuilding the temple is the next step to Israel’s current military operation in the Gaza Strip.

“We cannot be the people we’re supposed to be without the Holy Temple,” he said. “So what if we root out the [Gaza] tunnels and missiles? Then what are we doing with our lives? The redemption of humanity is dependent on the Jewish people.”

Launched on July 27, the campaign has so far raised $3,991. It will run until Rosh Hashana, on Sept. 25.  



Israel’s AG: Eliyahu’s candidacy for chief rabbi legally indefensible

Israel’s attorney general said the candidacy of Shmuel Eliyahu for Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel raised legal difficulties and could not be defended by his office.

While Yehuda Weinstein cannot officially bar Eliyahu from running for chief rabbi, the attorney general said Monday that he could not defend the rabbi should a challenge be filed against his candidacy with the Supreme Court.

Weinstein announced his decision at a hearing after reviewing Eliyahu’s responses to several questions about racist statements the rabbi had made. Weinstein had received several requests to prohibit Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Safed, from running on the basis of the statements.

Eliyahu reportedly has said he will not drop out of the race.

“On Tisha b’Av night, the attorney general chose to trample on democracy,” Eliyahu’s office said in a statement following reports of Weinstein’s decision. “It seems that the attorney general, who has permitted serious acts of members of Knesset against IDF soldiers and given support to the heads of the Islamic Movement, has decided to hold an ad hoc tribunal against Rabbi Eliyahu and turn himself into a prosecutor, judge and hangman.

Eliyahu wrote in a response to Weinstein’s inquiry about his alleged racist comments that he did not make many of the remarks attributed to him and that some were distorted by others.

Eliyahu has instructed Jewish residents of Safed not to rent or sell property to Arabs and, in 2010, he told the Israeli daily Maariv that “a Jew should not flee from Arabs. A Jew should make the Arabs flee. There is a silent war going on here for land” and “most of the violence in Israeli society stems from the Arabs.”

In his letter to the attorney general, Eliyahu said, “I don’t understand what the problem is. Must I, as a rabbi, explain why I am against marriages between Jews and foreigners? Must I explain why I prohibit same-sex marriages? Must I explain why I am in favor of becoming religious?”

The American Jewish Committee said in a statement issued Monday that it was “deeply concerned” about Eliyahu’s candidacy.  AJC  rarely comments on internal Israeli elections.

“Tragically, Rabbi Eliyahu’s statements undermine the social fabric of Israeli society and the core tenets of Judaism,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris.

The Anti-Defamation League on Monday welcomed Weinstein’s recommendation against Eliyahu’s candidacy. ADL has publicly objected to certain positions adopted by Eliyahu.

“Rabbi Eliyahu’s racist statements and extremist views make him ill-suited to serve in such a high-profile and important Israeli government position,” said Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director.

Top 10 Tisha b’Av films

The Jewish day of fasting and mourning that begins tonight at sundown commemorates not just the destruction of the two Holy Temples in Jerusalem but a confluence of Jewish tragedies through the ages. Watching sad movies has become a favorite pastime to help pass the time on this long, hot day — and easier than reciting the Kinot poems that mark Tisha b’Av morning.

So if you’re looking for something more appropriate to watch tomorrow afternoon than “Orange is the New Black,” the JTA staff has come up with this top 10 list to help get you though the day.

“Shoah” – Not only is this 1985 film the sine qua non of Holocaust documentaries, but at a whopping 10 hours, 13 minutes, it’s also guaranteed to take you through the entire day of mourning. And if you don’t have tears in your eyes at the end, at least you’ll be that much closer to having food in your belly.


“Schindler’s List” – Yes, it’s a cliche by now, but there’s a reason all Holocaust movies are measured against this 1993 Oscar-winning masterpiece by Steven Spielberg. Watch it again.


“In the Presence of Mine Enemies” — Rod Sterling’s classic 1960 teleplay about a rabbi struggling to balance family, faith and survival during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising includes a then-unknown Robert Redford playing the Nazi lieutenant who falls for the rabbi’s daughter. You can also check out the 1996 Showtime remake with Armin Mueller-Stahl as the rabbi.


“Operation Thunderbolt” – You may not go to summer camp anymore, but how many of us can forget the ominous musical refrain to this 1977 Israeli movie (which became a Tisha b’Av camp favorite) about the bold military operation to free the Israeli hostages from Uganda’s Entebbe airport after the hijacking of Air France flight 139 in 1976. The movie is known in Hebrew as “Operation Jonathan” for Jonathan “Yoni” Netanyahu, the Israeli commando (and brother of Israel’s current prime minister) who was killed in the operation. Yehoram Gaon plays Yoni.


“The Pianist” – Moving and beautifully done, the only drawback to watching this 2002 film starring Adrien Brody as a Polish Jewish musician struggling to survive the war is the annoyance you’ll feel every time you think of his forced smooch of Halle Berry when he won the Oscar for Best Actor.


“Paper Clips” – A quiet classic about a project by Tennessee middle schoolers to grasp the scope of the Holocaust by collecting enough paper clips to correspond with the 6 million Jewish victims, this 2004 documentary will break your heart and renew your faith in the down-home goodness of Americans all at the same time.


“The Wave” — Based on a true story, this 1981 TV special depicts a high school teacher struggling to teach his students about how a democratic society can be susceptible to fascism. But his social experiment begins to turn violent, culminating in a jarring climactic scene with echoes of the Nazis.


“Europa Europa” – This 1990 film directed by Agnieszka Holland is based on the true story of a Jewish boy, Solomon Perel, who survived the Holocaust by masquerading as an Aryan – in part by going through a painful procedure to hide his circumcision. Ouch!


“Sophie’s Choice” – Even three decades on, this 1982 movie still represents some of the best work of Meryl Streep, who does a pitch-perfect job, accent and all, playing Sophie Zawistowski, a Polish immigrant forced to make an unspeakable choice during the war. Streep, who starred opposite Kevin Kline as her lover, Nathan Landau, won an Academy Award for her effort.


“The Fixer” — John Frankenheimer’s 1968 movie based on the Bernard Malamud novel is about how being Jewish is inseparable from “being” for Jews. Malamud based his account on the 1913 Beilis blood libel trial in Kiev but made his protagonist, Bok, newly secular. Watching Alan Bates as Bok shave his beard in the film’s first moments, the viewer dreads the inevitable moment when Bok realizes that however much he tries, he will always be Jewish if only because that’s how anti-Semites define him.

A Lamentation on the Destruction of the Temple

1.  The absence of Presence
The Romans are approaching. We wallow in callous pettiness. The city will fall soon.

2. The presence of Absence
They are despoiling the sanctuary. We wail in piteous grief. Sun and moon are eclipsed. Horror.

3. The presence of Presence
It’s all over now. The dew washes clean our punished world. A lilac is blooming.

Copyright © 2013, Jonathan Omer-Man. For more, visit

Talmud in Downtown L.A.

Around 2,500 people turned out for the citywide Siyum HaShas celebration at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Aug. 1. The event marked the completion of the seven-and-a-half year cycle of daily Talmud study known as Daf Yomi.

The program began with Mincha (afternoon prayer) just after 5:30 p.m. and featured several speakers, including Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City. Dayan Aaron Dovid Dunner, a sitting member of the London Beth Din, delivered a main address.

“Everybody can be a Daf Yomi person,” Dunner said. “You find time for business and for pleasure. You can find time for Daf Yomi if you want to.”

Rabbi Mechie Blau served as master of ceremonies and opened the night by congratulating the misayamim, those who had completed the Daf Yomi learning, and pointing out that this year’s Siyum took place in the days following Tisha b’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

“Everyone here deserves to be applauded,” he said. “This celebration shows that we are ready to restore the glory of the beis hamigdash.”

The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion event featured a live digital linkup with a larger celebration at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.Approximately 90,000 men and women attended the New Jersey Siyum.

This year marks the 12th time that Daf Yomi has been completed, dating back to the practice’s Polish inception in 1923.

While the event focused mainly on those who had completed the daily learning cycle, only a minority of those in attendance had actually completed Daf Yomi. Rabbi Baruch Zheutlin, a sixth-grade Talmud teacher at Yeshivat Aharon Yaakov Ohr Eliyahu, said that though he had not completed Daf Yomi, he felt like a part of the celebration for several reasons.

“The Siyum combines two great things: Jewish unity and Torah study,” he said. “And I learn Gemara, so this is my celebration too.”

Zheutlin said he brought his 8-year-old son so that “he could see the honor of so many Jews unifying together.”

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the Siyum’s press liaison, said that the impact of the Siyum could be seen as early as the next day when morning Daf Yomi Shiurim took place, beginning the 13th cycle.

“There were a lot of new faces on Thursday,” Adlerstein, who is the director of interfaith affairs at The Simon Wiesenthal Center, said. “Many people saw the majesty of Torah at the Siyum and were inspired.”

The next Siyum HaShas is set to take place early in 2020.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: July 28 – August 2, 2012


Tonight’s tasty and spiritual shindig features a taco truck, beer, stories and Havdalah. Afterward, a talented local lineup of queer and ally poets, musicians and storytellers perform. Organized by East Side Jews, the Jewish Federation’s Young Adults of Los Angeles and JQ International. Sat. 7 p.m. $10. Private residence, 2138 Baxter St., Los Angeles. (323) 663-2255.

When a case of mistaken identity draws Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski into a kidnapping scheme, he enlists the help of bowling buddy Walter Sobchak (“I don’t roll on Shabbos!”) in the Coen brothers’ L.A. noir comedy. Attendees bring picnic dinners, drinks (alcohol permitted), pillows and blankets for this screening at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, part of the summer series Cinespia Presents. A DJ spins records before and afterward. All ages welcome. Sat. 7:30 p.m. (door), 9 p.m. (show). $10. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.

“The Hate Syndrome,” a rare 1966 episode of Emmy-winning religious anthology series “Insight,” explores anti-Semitism via a dark morality tale about a violent confrontation between an elderly Hebrew teacher and an unstable former pupil who has become a neo-Nazi. Written by “Twilight Zone” and “Night Gallery” creator Rod Serling, “The Hate Syndrome” screens along with “A Carol for Another Christmas” — Serling’s 1964 Cold War update of “A Christmas Carol” — and a trailer for “Seven Days in May,” Serling’s 1964 film that pits the president against the U.S. military. Part of “Rod Serling: Other Dimensions,” a retrospective of Serling’s contributions to television and cinema that feature his hard-edged narratives, psychologically driven characters and humanist take on controversial issues. Sat. 7:30 p.m. $10. Billy Wilder Theater, Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 462-4921.
“I’ve Got Rhythm,” “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Nice Work, If You Can Get It” will be among the hits performed by local talent during Spotlight the Arts’ fourth annual summer cabaret. Performers include Boston Conservatory students Taylor Shubert, Paige Berkovitz and Rachel Hirschfield; Point Park University student Jenny Lester; and College-Conservatory of Music student Dylan Shubert. Sat. 8 p.m. $12 (general), $10 (seniors, students), $6 (children, 10 and under). Calabasas Library Amphitheatre, 200 Civic Center Way, Calabasas. (818) 436-0530.


Today’s double feature at the Skirball includes two films that provide vastly different views on the relationship between Israel and Latin America. “The Valderama Sisters” follows former Catholics who seek a path to Judaism and Israel, while “My Own Telenovela” accompanies a filmmaker who leaves Israel and travels back to his native Argentina to care for family members. Part of the Skirball’s annual film series “Documentos.” Sun. 2 p.m. $6 (general), $5 (Skirball members, students). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.


Israeli-American pianist Bronfman performs Johannes Brahms’ finger-busting “Piano Concerto No. 2,” which at 50 dramatic minutes has the length of a four-movement symphony. The program also features the Los Angeles Philharmonic with conductor Lionel Bringuier. A rendition of Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” rounds out the evening. Tue. 8 p.m. $1-$133. 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000.


Blending Central Asian, Turkish, Persian and Russian traditions as well as the Jewish music of Bukhara, the Israel-based multigenerational eight-member ensemble performs tonight at Skirball. Part of the museum’s “Sunset Concerts” live music series. Arrive early to dine under the stars, tour the Skirball’s galleries and explore the museum’s architecture and hillside setting. Thu. 8 p.m. Free (concert), $10 (parking per car, cash only). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Dance, discover romance, and mingle in the moonlight during Jewlicious’ cocktail garden party in celebration of Tu b’Av, the Jewish holiday of love. A live performance by gypsy trio Kimera, aphrodisiac snacks and more highlight the festivities. Thu. 9 p.m.-midnight. $10 (advance), $15 (door). Rabbi Yonah and Rachel Bookstein’s private residence, 1134 S. Crest Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 277-5544.

Lessons from a prophet on Tisha b’Av

A man visiting from Manhattan introduced himself after finishing a Shabbat afternoon class in Jewish ethics and told me the following story: In the early years of Lincoln Square Synagogue, when Rabbi Shlomo Riskin was the rabbi, he always wanted a certain leading member to serve as cantor for Neilah on Yom Kippur. Rabbi Riskin felt this man was the perfect choice for the role because he was a Holocaust survivor, a very kind and caring man, an observant Jew who raised a wonderful family, and he was blessed with an exceptional voice. This member always refused without offering any explanation. Finally, one year, Rabbi Riskin insisted that the man explain why he wouldn’t accept. The rabbi argued that it made no sense, particularly because the man always agreed to lead the service every other time he was asked.

The man finally told Rabbi Riskin: “You know I am a Holocaust survivor. When the war ended, I was very angry with God. For years, I was totally nonobservant. I violated the Shabbat and ate non-kosher foods. I was really angry with God. He took everything from me. My whole family was killed by the Nazis. But that all changed when I got married and had children. Slowly but surely, I returned to observance through my children. But I must tell you that every Tisha b’Av, 20 minutes before the end of the fast, I take a drink of water. This is my war with God.”

Rabbi Riskin listened carefully and then said: “That you have a war with God is totally understandable, but the one who leads Neilah can’t be at war with his fellow man. And therefore it is you that I want to lead Neilah.”

I wonder, was Rabbi Riskin right? Neilah on Yom Kippur led by a man who doesn’t fast the full Tisha b’Av? In order to answer this question, I reviewed the words of the prophet chosen for Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat preceding Tisha b’Av.

In the opening chapter of Isaiah, the prophet criticizes the Jewish people with the harshest words imaginable. In the name of God, the prophet screams, “Bring no more vain offerings; incense of abomination they are to Me; as for new moons and Sabbaths and the calling of assemblies, I cannot bear iniquity along with solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me; I am weary of enduring them” (Isaiah 1:13-14).

The prophet declares that God is not interested in our prayers. Our sacrifices, we are told, are a farce. But what instigated such a terrible response from God? What caused God to reject our ritual service to Him?

Three verses later, Isaiah relates exactly why God was upset with us. “Devote yourself to justice; aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). And if that wasn’t enough, six verses later he announces, “Your rulers are fakers and cronies of thieves, every one avid for presents and greedy for gifts; they do not judge the case of orphans, and the widow’s cause never reaches them” (Isaiah 1:23).

What is God upset about? The prophet tells us we were ignoring those in need. The orphan and the widow, the two most vulnerable in society, are mistreated and ignored. The worst part of being a widow or an orphan is that no one pays attention to you. How often I have heard a widow cry to me that, without a husband, she is not only lonely but also ignored.

Rashi, the classical medieval biblical commentator, notes that the prophet was critical of us because the court system ignored the vulnerable and was concerned only with the wealthy and influential. When a community’s court system mistreats the vulnerable, it isn’t a single agency that bears the blame; rather the entire society is at fault.

So, in retrospect, I think Rabbi Riskin’s response was both apt and Jewish; one that is rooted in the message of our prophets and one that we all need to learn. The ritual law is important, but Judaism demands that it must be combined with a heart that cares for those who need us the most.

Rabbi Elazar Muskin is senior rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.

Israelis mark Tisha B’Av

Tens of thousands of Jews visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem to mark the solemn day of Tisha b’Av.

Worshipers who gathered Tuesday to commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples recited the Book of Lamentations while sitting on the ground in front of the Wall.

Two Jewish worshipers were removed from the Temple Mount Plaza, The Jerusalem Post reported, after asking for permission to pray at the site, which is prohibited for Jews.  Two Arabs also were removed from the area after attempting to incite other Arabs against the Jewish worshipers, according to the Post.

Worshipers had come to the Wall to pray and recite Lamentations on Monday night, when the commemoration began.

The party atmosphere at the protest tent city on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv was dampened for Tisha b’Av, with the reading of Lamentations and lectures.

On Sunday, the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel asked Mayor Ron Huldai in a letter to call on the tent city to respect the solemn day.

Tisha B’Av at the Western Wall [VIDEO] goes to the Kotel in Jerusalem to document the observance of Tisha B’av, the day marking the destruction of the temples.