My August column for the newsletter, My (Monthly) Word!, discussed Tu b’Av, the 15th day of the month of Av that falls six days after Tish’a b’Av. As the rabbis of old implied, we had to go from sadness to joy. But why should liberal Jews commemorate Tish’a b’Av at all?
Years ago, one of my congregants delivered a sermon in which he said that Tish’a b’Av (which this year is commemorated from Saturday night, August 10 through Sunday) should be made into a day of rejoicing. In his opinion it should be more joyous than any other holiday. He reasoned that since the day commemorates the destruction of the Holy Temples and thus the end of the sacrificial cult, we should never mourn over those events. The enemies, Babylonians and Romans, he insisted, did a mitzvah. We now were able to institutionalize the synagogue and all that has meant to our People across the centuries.
Why be sad when the synagogue has been, as our siddur states, “a visible token of the presence of God in our People’s midst.” The synagogue has been the center of Jewish life in good times and bad. When there are family and communal joys to celebrate, we’re drawn to the synagogue. Communities with all kinds of Jewish agencies, JCCs and Federations admit that in the hearts of our People there’s something unique about the synagogue.
Of course, Tish’a b’Av commemorates other tragedies in our history so the way I look at it, there is a place for the day in terms of education. My first contact with Tish’a b’Av - and usually the first for many young people - was in the URJ Camp I attended for the five summers before I entered Hebrew Union College. There was always a moving program, but unlike traditional Jews in camps and otherwise, we didn’t fast, we didn’t sit on the ground to read the Book of Lamentations, we didn’t focus on the Holy Temples. Rather we discussed the ups and downs of our history. We learned something.