The following thoughts were delivered by Risa Isard this morning at the beginning of our teffilot.
Jewish tradition tells us that Tisha b’Av isn’t just about the destruction of the temple. Rather, Tisha b’Av also marks the day of other tragedies. If you read the commentary last night during Eicha, you may have read that WWI broke out on Tisha b’av. And later, probably in high school, you’ll learn that WWI pretty much directly set the stage for WWII—which, of course, is when the Holocaust occurred. While many other tragedies also occurred on Tisha b’Av, I’m hard pressed to think of a worse contemporary tragedy than the Holocaust. Having learned about the Holocaust since an early age, I thought I had a good grasp on how absolutely devastating it was. But the truth remained—nobody in my family perished in the holocaust. Being Jewish—and a human being hungry for justice—was my only real connection to these events. When I think about it, that is a lot like how I’m connected to the destruction of the temple and the other events that tisha b’av commemorates.
Everyone on staff knows that I’m having a hard time with my Judaism these days. So, a few days ago, I wasn’t sure if I was going to fast for today. But then I had this sort of “aha” moment. Last August, I went on a Ramah-sponsored trip to Germany. I vividly remember traveling to the city of Schwerin and davenning in a synagogue that was destroyed on Kristallnacht in 1938—the “night of broken glass” and one of the most devastating nights as the holocaust broke out. The synagogue didn’t reopen until 2008, 70 years after its desecration. I remember seeing the remains of the synagogue’s sign. I remember wearing my tallis and wrapping my tefillin as my soul reached for the most beautiful royal blue stained glass magen david-shaped window high above us and the tinted-blue light radiating into the room.
I remember my visit to Sachsenhausen labor camp and the moment that I finally felt flooded by emotions. It was sickening. Right in front of me were four stretchers that carried dead bodies and the ovens which turned those now soulless skeletons into ashes.
Every day that I davened in Germany, I was reminded of the fact that a mere 70 years ago those very actions would have been a death sentence.
I can tell you with complete confidence that I’m not sad about the destruction of the Temple. I know that if we were temple-based Jews today, rather than rabbinic Jews, I would feel even more disconnected from my Judaism than I already do. I guess you could say that offering corbanot—sacrifices—aren’t really my thing. So no, I’m not fasting because the Temple was destroyed. I’m fasting to honor the memories of the people who came before me, some of whom died at the hands of intolerant people and others of whom died of natural causes after persevering. I’m fasting to mourn the stories that will forever go untold and the families whose lineages were truncated and erased. I’m fasting to salute the righteous goyim who sacrificed their time, energy, money and freedoms and in some cases, their lives, to protect Jews—who, for all intents and purposes, were regular people like me.