The Jewish people are now in the midst of what is perhaps the saddest time of year – the nine days. During this time, they deprive themselves of meat, wine and partaking in joyous occasions. It’s a time to not only mourn but reflect upon the lessons learned from the destruction of their holy temple.
Those nine days, of course, culminate in Tisha B’Av. It is a day when the Jewish people fast and pray to God over a Temple that wasn’t just destroyed once, but twice. First, by the and then by the Romans. And hundreds of years later, in another humiliating defeat, the Bar Kochba Revolt was brutally suppressed by the Romans on the very same day.
When the First Temple was destroyed, 100,000 Jews perished with it. And when the Roman Emperor Titus commanded his soldiers to destroy the Second Temple in 70 CE, some 2 million Jews died. It could have spelled the end of the Jewish people, however, through hope and prayer they persevered.
But the tragedies kept on coming. The horrific events falling on Tisha B’Av don’t end there. That day, too, marked the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290 and then their banishment from Spain in 1492. In modern times, the AMIA bombing in Argentina in 1994, also, took place on that day.
Fast forward to now and luckily much has changed. For one, Israel has a homeland of its own and doesn’t need to rely on foreign hospitality. More importantly, however, it also has a strong army who will ensure the Jewish people will be protected.
“IDF soldiers are, of course, allowed to fast on Tisha B’Av and are exempted from engaging in strenuous physical activity,” Dr. John Grossman, Chairman of LIBI USA, the official welfare fund of the IDF, said. “It is the least we can do for our men and women who give their all to ensure another Tisha B’Av tragedy won’t happen on Israeli soil.”
Further, the significance of Tisha B’Av applies even to non-observant Jews because of the sheer emotional weight of the day. As a recent feature in JNS explains, “In fact, Tisha B’Av…is all about memory, the collective memory of the Jewish people, as much a family as it is a religion.”
It is fitting then, that the IDF not only protects Jews as a nation but as a family.
“Despite our differences, we are all one. And I can’t think of any institution that serves as a better equalizer than the IDF. Whether you’re rich or poor, religious or secular, Ashkenazi or Sephardi, you’re putting on that uniform and making the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect fellow Jews,” Grossman explained.
That’s not to say Israel has been free of tragedy since the establishment of the state. Quite the contrary, merely five years ago, the nation was grappling with Operation Protective Edge. That seven-week conflict left 67 soldiers and six civilians dead. It is those IDF soldiers who put their lives on the line so Hamas terrorists, who dug dozens of tunnels underground, won’t seep into civilian territory wreaking havoc upon Israel and Israelis.
“It is fitting then, as we commemorate this sorrowful holiday, to think and pray for all the men and women who died so the Jewish People – Am Israel could live,” Grossman said.
In fact, Camp Ramah in the Rockies does just that. Since it’s the only Jewish holiday to fall in the summer, counselors use Tisha B’Av as a lesson to rejoice in one’s Jewish identity but also to never forget those who sacrificed everything they have. It is there that campers read the names of family and friends who served in previous Israeli wars as a way to honor this sacred day – that way, the next generation not only joins in marking the somber occasion but also learns to not take their existence for granted.
“We remember all the destructions of the Jewish people, including the Holocaust and the Israeli soldiers who died defending the land of Israel,” camp director Rabbi Eliav Bock told JNS.
Ultimately, though, Tisha B’Av is also a holiday of hope and redemption. Because it is only until the Messiah comes that the Temple will be restored to its former glory and the Jewish people will become whole once again.
But until that day happens, we wait and protect and cherish the Land of Israel and the soldiers who help us do so.