Posted by Rabbi Mark Diamond
I began my career as a Jewish educator one summer at Camp CHI, a retreat center and camp in Wisconsin sponsored by the Jewish Community Centers of Chicago. I was the Jewish educational specialist and assigned the task of creating a meaningful Tisha b’Av observance for children of all ages. I vividly recall the campers and their counselors descending upon an expansive field where we had set up “stations” to reflect the sadness and solemnity of the day. One station featured a music specialist playing a mournful melody on his guitar. A counselor read a plaintive story about communal loss at another station.
The station I was proudest of was an arts and crafts project in which small groups of campers built and decorated four ornate walls, which were glued together to form a miniature Temple. A staff member proudly held aloft the kids’ creation, after which he set the display on fire to simulate the burning of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. The goal was to instill feelings of mourning and grief in our young charges. Instead, they cheered and clapped as their little Temples succumbed to the flames. On that fateful day this nascent Jewish educator learned a valuable lesson about children and pyrotechnics.
I learned another critical pedagogical lesson much later in my rabbinic career. Tisha b’Av suffers from low ratings due to its placement on the Jewish calendar. If you haven’t heard much about Tisha b’Av, you’re not alone. Since it falls during the summer, and lacks the color and pizzazz of other Jewish holidays such as Hanukkah and Passover, Tisha b’Av is in many respects a lonely Jewish holy day. If your children or grandchildren attend a Jewish summer camp, they’ve probably “done” Tisha b’Av (hopefully sans flaming arts and crafts dioramas). For the rest of us, Tisha B’Av remains relatively quaint and obscure on the roster of Jewish holidays and holy days.
So what is Tisha b’Av? It is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. Tisha b’Av and Yom Kippur are the only two full fast days we observe each year. Tisha b’Av commemorates numerous tragic events in Jewish history, chief among them the destruction of both the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. Traditional Jews observe Tisha b’Av by abstaining from food and drink and participating in services when the Book of Lamentations and special kinot (“elegies”) are chanted. It is a somber day of prayer, mourning and reflection on the themes of nationhood and communal identity.
With the creation and flourishing of the modern state of Israel, many have questioned the efficacy of Tisha b’Av in contemporary Jewish life. After all, why mourn the destruction of the Temple with a strong and vital Israel and a reunified Jerusalem? For that matter, why mourn the destruction of the Temple when its demise led to the democratization of Jewish life and the establishment of vibrant Jewish communities in the Diaspora? Are we really comfortable praying for the restoration of animal sacrifices in a rebuilt third Temple (think PETA and a public relations disaster of epic proportions for Israel and the Jewish people)?
Perhaps my campers in Wisconsin were wise beyond their years when they applauded the destruction of their mini Temples. More likely, they were young pyromaniacs who appreciated the adage, “Burn baby, burn!” I don’t know if any of them do Tisha b’Av as adults or even if they recall this lonely day in the middle of the summer. I for one will mark the day in traditional fashion and search for answers to challenging questions about how and why we continue to do Tisha b’Av.
Rabbi Mark S. Diamond is Executive Vice President, The Board of Rabbis of Southern California, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. He can be reached at BoardofRabbis@JewishLA.org.
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July 5, 2012 | 11:06 pm
Posted by Rabbi Mark Diamond
Some of my best friends are Presbyterian. I take them to lunch and they take me to lunch. George Douglas for one. George is a respected businessman, an elder of the Pacific Palisades Presbyterian Church (PPPC), and a friend who has traveled with me on two interfaith missions to Israel. When the Presbyterian Church USA (PC USA) endorsed a pro-divestment overture at its 2004 General Assembly, George and his fellow PPPC members issued a public apology for the shameful actions of their national church body. George is a leader in Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, a group of concerned clergy and laity that rejects divestment from companies that do business in Israel.
The Rev. Dr. Mark Brewer is another friend of mine. Mark is the senior pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, one of the largest and most influential congregations in southern California. He and I have worked together on interfaith endeavors, and we share a commitment to peace and security for the Israelis and Palestinians. Pastor Brewer is a prominent critic of the one-sided, uncontested anti-Israel messages he hears so often at PC USA conventions. He understands that the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) movement is a blemish on the worldwide Presbyterian Church and ignores critical realities in the Middle East.
The Rev. Dr. Richard Mouw is another Presbyterian friend. He is president of Fuller Theological Seminary, one of the largest and most influential evangelical institutions in North America. Rich and I have created an ongoing series of seminars for pastors, rabbis, Christian and Jewish academicians, seminarians and community leaders. We have brought our faith communities together for spirited, respectful discussions of our respective narratives and views of the Middle East. Dr. Mouw rejects divestment as a strategy to solve the thorny issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
George, Mark and Rich are three of my Presbyterian friends. 369 commissioners of the PC USA General Assembly in Pittsburgh are my new Presbyterian friends. They rejected a dangerous, one-sided resolution that endorsed divestment from three companies that conduct business in Israel. In a preliminary vote that passed by the narrowest of margins (333 to 331 with two abstentions) and a final vote of 369-290, Presbyterian commissioners called instead for positive investment in the Palestinian territories as an alternative to selective divestment.
I applaud the wisdom and courage of Presbyterian clergy and laity who led the fight against divestment in the body politic of their denomination. I remain deeply concerned that a cadre of PC USA staff and leaders seize every opportunity to push the BDS agenda on the regional and national levels. They are neither friends of the Jewish community nor the people of Israel. They are neither trusted friends nor true proponents of peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians, notwithstanding their pious proclamations to the contrary. We will continue to “call them out” when their actions are imbalanced, irresponsible and offensive.
I cherish the bonds of friendship and collegiality I enjoy with George Douglas, Mark Brewer and Richard Mouw. I will continue to collaborate with them and with like-minded Presbyterians who appreciate the challenges and complexities of the Middle East conflict and endorse positive steps to foster peace and reconciliation in that troubled region. To our Presbyterian friends new and old, I am pleased to say: Let’s do lunch!