In Israel, a land rich with ancient narratives and diverse cultures, a new trend is unfolding. Amid the timeless stones and cherished landscapes, secular Israelis are uniting in a surprising and profound manner.
This year, in a departure from their usual religious detachment, they're observing Tisha Be'av – a historic day of mourning – through fasting.
This act isn't just a reflection of shared heritage; it's a collective protest against the government's recent, contentious judicial reform.
At the heart of this grassroots movement is Mirik Snir, an accomplished children’s book author. While she regularly fasts on Yom Kippur, her decision to also fast on Tisha Be'av this year was fueled by her growing discontentment with the current right-wing and religious government's policies.
By adapting her personal act of fasting to Tisha Be'av, Snir ignited a nationwide protest against the debated reform, in an act of unity.
Fasting: An evocative form of protest
To Snir, and the many who have since joined her cause, fasting isn't a mere tradition. It's an evocative form of protest, a unifying prayer, and a powerful symbol of unity. The recently passed law of the judicial reform has reignited concerns about the potential erosion of Israel's long-standing democratic values and civil liberties. By fasting, secular Israelis are finding a poignant way to articulate their shared concerns and fears.
Throughout the country, tents have emerged as places of gathering, reflection, and discussion. These sanctuaries, some overlooking historic sites, serve as focal points, helping participants channel their sentiments into a cohesive prayer for their nation's future. Understanding the potential of digital age connectivity, Snir initiated a WhatsApp group to amplify her cause.
Her invitation was clear and inclusive: "We, a diverse group from all backgrounds, invite every Israeli – religious, secular, Right, Left, center – to join this fast on Tisha Be'av, using it as a shared protest against looming threats." The group quickly became a hub for sharing thoughts, coordinating events, and solidifying the movement's momentum.
A day of reflection
Historically, Tisha Be'av stands as a solemn day of reflection, marking the destruction of both the First and Second Temples – tragedies accentuated by internal discord among the Jewish people. For many secular Israelis, the act of fasting this year is not just a nod to history. It's an urgent, contemporary call for unity and understanding, especially when faced with divisive policies and reforms.
The nation's digital platforms are resonating with testimonials and shared sentiments by a random group of Israelis. Orli Bach's heartfelt Facebook post reads, "For the first time, I will fast on Tisha Be'av. It's an internal call I can't ignore. In time, its meaning will crystallize for me." In a similar vein, Roby Schweitzer shared his unexpected connection to this observance, stating, "Despite being secular, today I feel deeply connected to this historic day, all thanks to the current leadership."
This emerging trend paints a picture of a society undergoing transformation. It shows secular Israelis aligning, perhaps temporarily, with their religious counterparts. This shared fasting sends a powerful message: preserving Israel's democratic essence is not the sole responsibility of one group; it's a collective endeavor.
Yet, as with any movement, there are contrasting voices. Mendi Shaked offers a counterpoint, stating, "For the first time, I'm choosing not to fast. When current issues are so pressing, ancient observances seem less relevant to me."
Such divergent viewpoints are a testament to the multifaceted nature of Israeli society. While many find relevance and solace in the observance of Tisha Be'av as a modern-day protest tool, others believe that addressing present-day challenges should be the primary focus.
In the midst of these varying perspectives, the increasing trend of secular Israelis fasting on Tisha Be'av becomes even more significant. It acts as a mirror, reflecting a nation's earnest efforts to shape its future while also honoring its rich past.
The voices of both those fasting and those abstaining enrich the ongoing discourse about Israel's future, reinforcing the democratic spirit that has long defined this nation. Through their collective actions and beliefs, Israelis are showcasing the enduring quest for unity and mutual respect amidst inherent diversity.