Contrary to Yom Kippur, secular Israelis don't care about Ninth of Av
Published: 07.24.07, 12:09 / Israel Opinion
Unfortunately the Temple was destroyed in July-August. Two thousand years later, secular Israel is too busy during these two months to remember anything about what happened so long ago. In the midst of the summer break and on the beach, the Ninth of Av creeps up with stubble on its face and that Temple where cows were slaughtered, as if there were no quinoa in the world.
The Ninth of Av is not a popular day in Israel. Israeli society likes to celebrate, including Israel's festivals, but fast days are no small headache. Israelis like to think that the Ninth of Av is only related to the past, to some distant temple, which they do not particularly miss and certainly do not wish to see reappear all of a sudden.
And then, on a seemingly normal summer's eve, TV sets start airing black-and-white films with no commercials in between. Suddenly there are pictures of Jerusalem and religious people everywhere, wearing sneakers and hair on their faces as they sit on the ground at the Western Wall.
"What's going on? Who died? Oh yes, the Temple, yes the Temple, and I for a brief moment thought something happened."
"It's a problem," thinks to himself a would-be religious Reuven Adler-type advertising executive, "Yom Kippur is in fact a success story.
Perhaps because it entails no sadness, but rather, seriousness. The streets become empty; plus, the memory of the Yom Kippur War has been added to the cloak of respect given to this day. Once a year Israelis act as religious Jews and then go back to their pleasant secularism in the remaining 364 days. On Yom Kippur, without any special law and without having to be asked, almost everyone partakes in the prayers and fast. Why doesn't the Ninth of Av work that way as well? How can we sell this day to the masses?" he ponders.
Israelis' attitude to Yom Kippur is similar to the attitude towards a mezuzah, whereas the attitude to the Ninth of Av more resembles an Yizkor for a great-grandfather. The mezuzah emanates a mystical air. If it doesn't help it won't do any harm. Besides, we are Jews. So why shouldn't we fast on Yom Kippur?
Many Israelis maintain that there is no benefit to the Ninth of Av. It's just a day of memory and depression. Who remembers grandfather's Yahrzeit? Who has the patience to look for a kippah in the glove compartment and to go the cemetery when no one remembers anyway?
Yom Kippur, within the atmosphere of festivities and the beginning of a new year, is perceived as something positive. A little forgiveness and repentance. A few prayers, the autumn calm in the streets. A sort of spiritual insurance certificate. The Ninth of Av comes during the heat of July-August. Try to think of a Temple in east Jerusalem while pushing a cart full of duty-free goods at the airport. If the Ninth of Av threatens Israeli routine with its somberness, Yom Kippur lends this routine an air of festivity and spiritual elevation.
On the Ninth of Av the Temple was destroyed twice. This is the day that symbolizes the loss of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel and the onset of a bitter exile. On the Ninth of Av, Beitar (the city, not the football team) was captured and ravaged, and it was decreed that our forefathers in the desert would not enter the Land of Israel.
Leftovers of Jewish tradition
What has remained of this Jewish tradition within the pace of Israeli life? Just leftovers. The Temple is perceived as the symbol of religious rule in which no one is interested in nowadays. Jerusalem on the whole is increasingly being distanced from Tel Aviv, which lives around the clock. Add to this the fact that schools undergo renovations during July-August and you'll understand why children do not even encounter the Ninth of Av within the mandatory education curriculum.
Had Israel's education focused on healthy nationalism, the understanding "of remembering the secret of redemption" would have perhaps appealed to more people. With the destruction of the Temple, hundreds of thousands of our people perished. True, it was long ago, but beyond national destruction, a massacre of our people also took place.
Since then we have experienced sacrifices and a Holocaust, massacres and the Inquisition. However, the destruction of the Temple symbolized the beginning and the reason for the painful exile that culminated in the Holocaust of European Jewry. The Holocaust was part of the deportation process of an entire people.
So despite the Ninth of Av occurring in the summer, there is national, religious and Zionist significance in remembering what happened to us as a people just 2,000 years ago.
It's almost a lost battle. There is barely any hope for the depression and somberness of the Ninth of Av. The chance of selling the Ninth of Av to Israelis disconnected from tradition is pretty slim. Without studying the Tractate Taanit, which says that "five specific events occurred on the Ninth of Av that warrant fasting," it won't work. Without singing for the Temple to be rebuilt in our lifetime, it is almost impossible to teach a generation about the salvation of Israel.
Without leaving an un-plastered corner in the house in memory of the destruction, it is difficult to explain what's missing on the Ninth of Av. Without growing up with the sounds of the Eicha lamentations, you will apparently not notice the mourning of Jerusalem.
A party pooper
This is not about slogans and symbols of memory alone, but about education. Israeli society finds it difficult to remember events that occurred only last summer and two summers ago. To ask it to remember a sultry event of destruction and holocaust, plus a fast, plus lamentations – that's going too far.
The prevalent feeling is that the Ninth of Av is a matter for religious Jews. It's a good thing we have them so that they can mourn for us too. Even visiting the Temple Mount, which is our national right, not a religious one, is consistently portrayed as a terrible headache, so you come to us now with your Temple and all its geopolitical ramifications, and with the Arabs who are likely to become terribly angry?
For several decades now secular nationalism has abandoned the religious symbolism of historic memory. The fast days pertaining to various destructions are of no interest because they are perceived as a religious matter only.
Even a serious attempt to incorporate updated content into a day such as the Ninth of Av hasn't been made. Schools have not been required to demonstrate the connection between the distant past and the near future. Here and there heroic attempts have been made to conduct joint study evenings and lamentations in the Jewish Hebrew spirit. Perhaps here lies a little hope for the sad memory.
Yet overall, modern-day Israel suffices with joyous festivals with lots of food. The festivals of Tishrei, Hanukkah, Purim and Passover. The Ninth of Av appears all of a sudden like a party pooper. The Ninth of Av? What, today? It's not for me, it's for the religious community.