Summer: Barbecues and the beach. Summer: Fireworks and frankfurters on the grill. But for Jews, summer is a time for mourning and commemoration. We remember the Temple of Solomon and the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and their destruction thousands of years ago. The Three Weeks between the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tamuz and the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av – the period in which the Babylonians and the Romans razed Jerusalem and destroyed the centers of sacrifice – dominate the summer for Jews.
This is very far from the “Good Vibrations” of the endless summer of the Beach Boys. Perhaps the time has come, not to eradicate the Jewish mourning of the last months of the Hebrew calendar, but to acknowledge that, although we have no Temple, the pain of longing for the messianic advent has been eased by the watershed events of our modern history.
It was the Ninth of Av in the summer of 1987. On the evening of this major fast day in the Hebrew calendar, I accompanied two friends to the Western Wall. The three of us were enrolled as visiting students in the ulpan – the Hebrew language program – at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
It was the most memorable summer of my life and the program was outstanding. I went with my friends to recite the Book of Lamentations, the traditional text attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, his lament on the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonian superpower in 586 BCE.
The Western Wall was once described as the “Wailing Wall.” But this Ninth of Av eve, despite the mourning for a destroyed Jerusalem, the furthest thing from my mind was crying. In fact, I was all smiles. As we approached the Western Wall Plaza, it was bathed in light and packed with Jews seated on the ground chanting Lamentations, praying or just talking. It was a scene full of life and vigor, a reason to celebrate.
While the mourning aspects of the fast day have always been legitimate, the reality is that Jewish sovereignty reigns over a united and undivided Jerusalem as the capital of a revived Jewish state and nation. If Jeremiah were alive today, he would experience the miracle of walking through the city that he so loved. We should never take for granted that within the short historical span of 150 years, the revival of a Jewish nation in the Jewish homeland has become a reality.
JEWS DID NOT yearn for two millennia for a bargaining chip in negotiations that are bound to fail. Jewish hopes and prayers were directed toward the Jewish return to all of Jerusalem, not an unworkable dual capital for Jews and Palestinians. The reality of a united Jerusalem under Jewish sovereignty is almost half a century old. It is time for the world to acknowledge that reality, including Israel’s ally America, a partner in a “special relationship” that has endured for more than 50 years.
The reuniting of Jerusalem was not solely a political or military victory. Jewish hopes, dreams and beliefs were fulfilled in the Six Day War. Jerusalem’s centrality to Jewish history cannot be denied. The empires of the past that ruled over Zion are gone. We are still here. Let the world acknowledge that fact. Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem is a reality that cannot be disputed. It was a reality of the ancient world and it is the reality of today.
We are entering the summer months of the Hebrew calendar, a time of mourning for a Jerusalem destroyed. But with our mourning is the realization that we have survived to mourn, and do so in a Jerusalem to which we have returned. We can lament. But we can also hope.
As I stood at the Western Wall that evening, I asked myself: Where are the Babylonians? Where are the Romans and the Byzantines? Where are the Ottomans? Torquemada, Hitler, Stalin, Nasser – their legacy is dust. We are still here. And not only are Jews a living people: We are a thriving people despite all the internal and external threats to our existence. Jewish survival is not only miraculous. It is a clarion call to the world that Jews are a people and a nation. It is a renaissance that no other people could have accomplished.
As I stood at the Western Wall that evening, I smiled. There are major challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of Jewish survival – from the threat of Iranian nukes to the alarming increase in both Jew-hatred in Europe and the erosion of Jewish identity in America. But we move ahead with confidence because we have a track record of both suffering, but also success. Yes, we celebrate the Maccabees and Bar-Kochba for their heroism and their struggle to fight for Jewish independence.
But let us also respect our ancestors in the Diaspora who kept the flame of faith alive and would not allow a nation to fail. We remember the sacrifice of those who died to defend Jewish dignity, honor and sovereignty. We shall move ahead. We shall live on. I will never forget that night – of lamentation but also celebration – in Jerusalem.
The writer is rabbi of Congregation Anshei Sholom in West Palm Beach, Florida.