The necessity of lamenting

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Once a central day in the Jewish calendar, Tisha B'Av seems to have been relegated today to the same obscure status as Lag B'Omer or Shemini Atzeret. All but the most observant American Jews ignore this holy day.

A few factors in particular seem to work against Tisha B'Av, which primarily commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

Tisha B'Av — a single day of mourning and fasting that begins at sundown Wednesday — is inconvenient, so to speak.

It falls in the summertime when religious schools are closed, leaving the decision to observe this holy day up to families or individuals. Unfortunately, the all-too-common armchair approach to Judaism means that many parents rely on the synagogue to imbue their children with knowledge and ritual.

The establishment of Holocaust Memorial Day and Israel's founding also may have lessened the American significance of Tisha B'Av.

We turn to Holocaust Memorial Day each spring to voice our grief over the 20th century genocide of 6 million Jews. It may feel redundant to mourn again so soon, especially when Yom Kippur is less than two months away.

And with the birth of modern Israel, does it really seem necessary to grieve over the Second Temple's destruction, which forced our ancestors out of our land for nearly 2,000 years?

Perhaps we must remind ourselves that Judaism is more than the sum of its most popular holidays — Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Chanukah, Purim and Passover. Our calendar is filled with so much more — holidays of joy, of memory, of sorrow such as Simchat Torah, Sukkot, Tu B'Shevat, Shavuot and Tisha B'Av.

Next week's holy day, in fact, recalls much more than the razing of our most sacred site. It is a symbol of all persecution and misfortune for the Jews. Though we repeatedly swear to never forget the Holocaust, we must also remind ourselves that it wasn't our first or only tragedy as a people.

On Tisha B'Av in 1492, the Jews of Spain were expelled. The Talmud was burned in Paris on that day in 1242. The last stronghold of the Bar Kochba revolt against the Roman occupation fell on Tisha B'Av in 135 C.E.

It's not as if we always need to bathe ourselves in grief. Many Jews believe we do that too well. But, perhaps, if we focus our sorrow on the day our ancestors purposefully laid aside for such emotion, then we could relieve ourselves of the instinct to lament continuously and would be better able to accept the joy our religion inspires as well.