The Burden of a Long Memory

Being an observant Jew means being a keeper of Jewish history: the Holocaust, the destruction of the Temples, and Sinai.

This article was first published on Beliefnet for Tisha B'Av in 2000. In 2008, Tisha B'Av begins at sundown on August 9 and lasts until sundown on August 10.

Every year, Tisha B'Av brings back a personal memory for me, of a conversation that took place more than two decades ago on the outskirts of a non-religious kibbutz (communal settlement) in the Galil, Israel’s northern region, on a hill overlooking a lush valley.

The teen-aged cousins, one born and bred on the kibbutz, the other an Orthodox American newcomer to the Holy Land on a short visit before the start of the academic term at his yeshiva, academy of Jewish learning, had first met only days earlier.

They had been speaking about family, personal experiences, and sundry things their very different lives nevertheless had in common. And then, the observant boy mentioned, entirely en passant, the imminence of the Jewish fast day known as Tisha B'Av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem.

"We don't observe that holiday on the kibbutz," his cousin pointed out. "The Temple's destruction just isn't relevant to our lives here."


The American boy hesitated for a long moment before asking, "Do you observe any Jewish day of mourning?"

"Sure," came the reply. "Yom HaShoah [Holocaust Memorial Day]."

Another pause, this one longer. The yeshiva student knew that the national day of Jewish mourning, Tish'a B'Av, on one level encompassed every tragedy in Jewish history, that not only was the first Jewish Holy Temple destroyed on that day (2420 years ago), and the second one (1930 years ago) on the very same day, but that the rebel Jewish forces at Betar were annihilated by the Romans on it as well.

He knew, too, that the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290, and from France in 1306 and from Spain in 1492 all happened on Tish'a B'Av as well.

He also knew that what was quite arguably the true genesis of what would culminate in Germany's "Final Solution," the First World War, which began on Tish'a B'Av. But somehow it didn't seem the right time for a history lesson.

So, instead, he asked his cousin, "Is your commemoration of the Holocaust really important to you?"

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