Tisha BAv: A time to cry, pay tribute

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Still, whatever else we do or think about on that day, we continue to recall with sadness the destruction of the First and Second temples, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and other tragic events in the history of our people.

This being said, the relative peace of recent years has afforded us the luxury of diverting some of our attention on this day to other matters. Indeed, we have used this time to tackle challenges of a different kind, such as those of rampant assimilation and the weakening of our young people's attachment to Judaism.

This year, however, our hearts are heavy once again, compelling us to spend the day mourning and paying tribute. Over the past year, we have witnessed senseless acts of terror. We saw the clear resurgence of hatred expressed openly, shamelessly and violently. While these events did not take place on Tisha B'Av itself, on that day we shall remember those who perished and reflect on the implications of these tragedies.

The November assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin left the world — and Jews in particular — both numb and uncomprehending. This horrible event raised a red flag in the Jewish community, a flag still demanding attention even now.

The rabbis teach that the Second Temple was destroyed partly because of senseless hatred, sinat hinam, among the Jews. This lack of civility — ranging from character assassination to actual assassination — violates Jewish teachings and threatens the fabric of the entire community.

Unfortunately, even after the collective shock that possessed Jews worldwide following Rabin's assassination, the incivility continues, as name-calling and mutual suspicion among diverse groups threatens the continuation of reasonable discourse.

Perhaps refreshing our own memories at Tisha B'Av will remind us of extremism's high cost, and help us recommit ourselves to civility and mutual respect.

Extremism takes many forms. Several months after Rabin's assassination, scores of people in Israel lost their lives in suicide bombings perpetrated by terrorist groups determined to derail the Mideast peace process. During one of these bombings, we lost two young American Jews whose commitment to Judaism and to tikkun olam — healing the world — might have achieved so much, had these Jews been permitted to live and to fulfill their potential.

The reverberations of those bombings will be felt for many years to come, as the world struggles to comprehend such barbarism. Perhaps Tisha B'Av will help us defeat this terror by reaffirming our belief in peace, so valued in Jewish tradition.

The suffering of other communities might well be added to our Tisha B'Av list, starting sundown July 24, not only because of Judaism's concern for the sanctity of every individual life but also because violence engenders more violence — and all of humanity suffers when the forces of evil are unleashed. We must remember with sadness the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. We also look with both sorrow and outrage at the recent burning of black churches in the American South.

It is time to reaffirm that we are all responsible for one another, and that another group's loss should be treated as our own. On Tisha B'Av, we can reflect on the meaning of mutual responsibility. We can also begin to model in our own lives the kind of behavior that demonstrates respect for our fellows and call upon our synagogues and other Jewish institutions to do the same.

In recent years, some have questioned the relevance of Tisha B'Av — mourning, as it does, "past" tragedies. Whatever the appropriate response to that position, it is clear that this year Tisha B'Av must fulfill its traditional role: eliciting from us an outpouring of grief and remorse and forcing us to confront the continued existence of unreasoning hatred in our world.

If solutions to these troubling issues arise, so much the better. If they don't, we will try again next year.