Tisha Be'Av: Rebuilding Jerusalem

August 11, 2019 02:02
3 minute read.
Tisha Be'av at the Western Wall, 2019.

Tisha Be'av at the Western Wall, 2019.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Thousands of people will gather for the annual Tisha Be’Av march Saturday night around the walls of the Old City, organized by the Women in Green, a grassroots right-wing organization. People of all ages will stream through downtown streets toward Independence Park. Dozens of Israeli flags will wave in the soft Jerusalem night breeze. Tourists will watch curiously as the chazzan begins to read Eichah (Lamentations of Jeremiah). Despite the large number of people and scattered reunions and greetings, there will be a sacred hush as the plaintive melody echoes against the new buildings of Jerusalem stone. We live on the edge.

The stark words remind us of the siege of Jerusalem and its destruction over 2,500 years ago; terse descriptions cut deeply into our consciousness. The pain is not far away. Thousands of Jews have been maimed and murdered in recent years by Arab terrorists, despite the Oslo agreements that were supposed to bring peace. Many lives have been shattered.

Most of the teenagers participating in the event have family members and friends who were victims. Many of these youths will soon be in uniform; some may not come back. We share the trauma and the grief. We are all survivors – and we stand virtually alone.

The collective memory of the destruction of the Temple and Jewish civilization in Eretz Yisrael is inside us now.

After the Eicha reading, the march will start. Hundreds of Jews waving Israeli flags will circle around the Old City Walls like a bride surrounding her groom under the huppa. We will walk past the Damascus Gate, well protected, with police spotters on rooftops, and policemen and IDF Border Guard units scattered along the way. A few Arabs watch from street corners. We are like a passing river; hardly anyone says a word.

The crowd will pass the Rockefeller Museum, where most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept. I am reminded of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans 2,000 years ago, and the irony of it all: we are walking past the ruins of those who conquered, enslaved and slaughtered us. Yet here we are. Thousands of Jews in the streets of united Jerusalem in the sovereign state of Israel. Am Yisrael hai!

We will stop at the Lions Gate, above the Kidron Valley to hear the speeches by the speakers. Across from us, like a crown amidst the darkened hills is the Hebrew University; farther on the Mount of Olives cemetery is illuminated. Several churches are lit up as well. Above us is the Mercy or Golden Gate that borders the Temple Mount, through which cohanim (priests) once led the red heifer and goat of Azazel to the Mount of Olives to be sacrificed. According to legend, it is the gate through which the Messiah will enter.

Below us is the City of David, site of the original city of Jerusalem. I try to imagine the first Tisha Be’Av fires burning above us where the Temple once stood. We will walk past the excavations along the southern side, the stairs and Hulda Gates that lead directly to the Temple Mount itself. Finally we will arrive at the Dung Gate that leads to the Kotel (Western Wall). Crowds will be pouring in from every direction.

The plaza in front of the Wall will be packed, with waves of people moving back and forth. Despite the solemnity of the evening, people will greet each other warmly, soldiers embracing, slapping each other on the back. Groups of teenagers will laugh and talk excitedly as thousands of people pray, touching the 2,000-year old retaining wall of the Temple Mount, a remnant of what once was.

We are all connected. After many generations of destruction, we’re back. Jerusalem is being rebuilt every day. Nearly half of the Jews in the world live in Eretz Yisrael, and surprisingly, aliyah continues. Our universities and technologies have contributed much to civilization. Our army can and will protect us. The entire country turns this day backwards toward a time when we were slaughtered and exiled – and now we have returned. But it is not only in these accomplishments that I find joy.

In the morning, after special prayers that include the enumeration of destructions that are part of our history, we attend shiurim (classes) dealing with the importance of the day. We are all part of this rebuilding that makes living in Israel so special.
If he could see this now, I think even Jeremiah would smile. We are home.

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