Current tragedies weigh on local Tisha BAv event

Tisha B'Av, which marks destruction and death throughout Jewish history, didn't feel so far away this year.

At Tuesday's community observance in San Francisco, the suicide bombing in Jerusalem two weeks earlier and the previous night's confrontation between ultra-religious and non-Orthodox at the Western Wall weighed heavily.

"You see Tisha B'Av happening all over again," Rabbi Jacob Traub of San Francisco's Orthodox Adath Israel told about 40 Jews gathered at the Holocaust memorial in the Richmond District's Lincoln Park.

Tisha B'Av is the annual day for commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, along with a myriad of other tragedies since then.

Jewish sages have long asserted that senseless hatred among Jews helped lead to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.

Traub sees the same "stresses," as he calls them, building today. At this time, he said, Jews could be transforming Israel into a "veritable Garden of Eden.

"So what do we do? We rip each other apart."

Traub tried to end on a hopeful note, recalling that ancient rabbis believed that someday the mournful Tisha B'Av could be transformed into a holiday.

"It's in our hands."

The event was co-sponsored by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council and the Board of Rabbis of Northern California.

In previous years, the Holocaust memorial was the perfect site for such gatherings. With the fog-shrouded bay and Marin Headlands peeking through pines, the site epitomizes quiet respect.

On Tuesday afternoon, however, chain saws and the engines of a half-dozen large diesel trucks roared outside the adjacent Palace of the Legion of Honor, where construction was under way. Organizers tried to compensate by pushing the podium closer to the audience.

But at times the din muffled the rabbis' words during the 45-minute event.

"We have some competition here," noted Rabbi H. David Teitelbaum, director of the Board of Rabbis.

The one speaker whose voice boomed over the racket was Adath Israel member David Henkin, who powerfully chanted the melancholy trope for the Book of Lamentations.

Jews traditionally read Lamentations, or Eicha in Hebrew, on Tisha B'Av while sitting on the ground or low stools in synagogue. Other traditions include fasting and refraining from wearing leather.

Four rabbis from the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements set the tone with heavy words.

"Eicha is a deep groan. It is a sigh," Teitelbaum said. "It is a cry of pain. It is a cry of exasperation. It is a cry of outrage."

Teitelbaum asked where the "eicha" is today, amid wars and genocides in such countries as Burundi, Zaire, Bosnia and Cambodia. He asked where the "eicha" is after suicide bombings in Israel.

He called for Jews to speak up for peace, against terrorism and for the end of strife between themselves and Arabs.

As is tradition at the annual event, Rabbi Doug Kahn, the JCRC's executive director, then asked the attendees to do more than mourn over terrorist attacks.

"We have to fight that temptation to get used to it."

Acknowledging the awkwardness of mixing observance with political action, Kahn called community members to voice their opposition to terror.

A volunteer handed out a two-page "note of action," asking local Jews to publicly insist that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat live up to his promise to fight terrorism.

The sheets include addresses or fax numbers for Arafat, President Clinton, congressional representatives and local newspapers.

"We not only have to remember," Kahn said. "We have to act."