On the eve of Tisha Be’av, thousands of Jews gathered at the Western Wall Monday night to mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples, pray for the creation of a Third Temple, and express hope for peace.

Tisha Be’av (the ninth day of the month of Av in the Hebrew calendar) is considered the “saddest day in Jewish history.” Jews fast to commemorate the Temples’ destruction, which occurred on the same day, 655 years apart.

Several other significant tragedies also befell Jews on this day, including their expulsion from England and Spain in 1290 and 1492, respectively; Heinrich Himmler’s presentation of the “Final Solution” in 1940; and the Nazi deportation of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto in 1942.

Gutman Locks, a Torah scholar and teacher originally from New York, helped parishioners wrap teffilin and pray a few meters from the Wall.

“What’s so special about coming here on Tisha Be’av is that this is the location where the Temples were destroyed – just on the other side of the Wall,” Locks said. “And that’s where the third one will be built when the Messiah comes, and that one will not be destroyed.”

“Even though it’s the saddest time of the year, we can see Jews come back to the land again, which was prophesized for thousands of years,” he continued. “We can actually see it happening.”

Indeed, Locks said he viewed Tisha Be’av through a prism of sorrow and hope.

“So, on one side it is very sad what has happened in our history, but now we can anticipate the happiest time of all creation, where the whole world will know God – will know peace,” he added. “We see it now, as more Jews live in Israel than any other place in the world.”

Sarit Berko, a retired, non-observant native Israeli, who came to the Wall to observe Tisha Be’av from her home in Tel Aviv, said she has made the pilgrimage since she turned 10 years old, following the Six Day War.

“My generation is so lucky to be born in Israel and not experience the Holocaust,” she said. “As I get older and more spiritual I believe this is my land and I am so grateful that I can come to mourn at this Wailing Wall, even though I’m not religious.”

Berko also expressed hope that the sorrow Tisha Be’av engenders will one day be transformed into joy.

“During Passover most Jews say ‘Next year in Jerusalem,’” she said. “As an Israeli I pray, ‘Next year may the Third Temple be built and last for eternity.’ We’re going to convert all our mourning into a festival, this is my prayer.”

Rabbi Steven M. Graber, who leads a congregation in Long Island, came to Jerusalem with his wife and two daughters to observe the day of mourning.

“Of course I think about the destruction of the Temples, but I see Jews rebuilding Israel – rebuilding Jerusalem – so it’s not really a sadness I feel, rather a keen awareness of every bit of history that’s gone on here from the time of David to today,” said Graber.

“I feel privileged to be alive at this juncture in history because I can be here as a free Jew and I can extrapolate toward the wondrous future I see in this country for our people,” he added.

Graber’s 19-year-old daughter Leora, a student at Queens College, said she viewed Tisha Be’av as a time for personal reflection.

“For me, I’d say that putting all historical reasons [to mourn] aside, this is more of a time to reflect on yourself as a Jew and to be a part of a larger community,” she said. “I think that’s why we’re here – to identify with our own Judaism and with each other.”

Meanwhile, Morrie and Millie Kaporovski of Netanya, who made aliya 29 years ago from Montreal, expressed conflicting feelings of hope and frustration regarding the lack of tolerance among Jews.

“Today means commemorating all the horrendous deeds that were done in the name of religion to the Jews,” said Millie, a grandmother. “All kinds of horrible things happened on Tisha Be’av, so we’re so lucky to have our country. It is our home and no one will take it away from us again.”

Morrie said he was troubled by a lack of tolerance among Jews in general, and in Jerusalem specifically.

“For me, I mourn for our own people – that we haven’t learned a thing in the last 5,000 years about how to be tolerant of other Jews,” he said. “Because it’s Tisha Be’av it’s a sad day and I’m [also] saddened by the fact that I am fast learning how to dislike the city of Jerusalem because of the lack of tolerance and acceptance of different ways of being Jewish.”

Still, Millie said that despite unpleasant infighting, she was heartened to live an unrivaled degree of freedom never experienced by her Jewish predecessors.  

“Just looking at the Kotel brings tears to my eyes because of all the Jews who haven’t been able to come here,” she said. “For us to be here, it’s a dream come true.”

Fasting for Tisha Be’av ends Tuesday night at 8:15 pm in Jerusalem and 8:18 pm in the Tel Aviv area.

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