Yesterday was Tisha B'Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. (Actually, Shabbat was Tisha B'Av, but we are not permitted to mourn on Shabbat.) It is the day that marks the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem and other calamities in Jewish history as well. We fast, refrain from the wearing of leather as a sign of mourning, chant Eicha (the Book of Lamentations) and kinot (dirges referring to the Temple and other Jewish suffering).
Most often mention of Tisha B'Av brings to mind thoughts of the destruction of the Second Temple, 2,000 years ago, by the Romans.
This is a tragedy in and of itself of monumental proportions, for the Temple brought the Jewish people a connection with God that transcended all others and for which the Jewish heart still yearns today.
If you are interested in understanding this better, you might want to take the time to see this fine 30- minute video, "Wake the Dawn: The Story of Jerusalem's Holy Temple":
(With thanks to Ruth N.)
But more than this was lost: There was a sense of unity of the people, which most certainly has not been recovered. There was the loss of sovereignty, and of religious legal authority via the Great Sanhedrin, the body of 71 sages who sat at the Temple.
The modern State of Israel -- with the ingathering of exiles -- is referred to as the first flowering of our redemption (reshit tz'michat ge'ulatenu). With God's help, we are on the way.
But we have a long, long way to go, to recover our ancient glory. And so, during Tisha B'Av we attend lectures by rabbis addressing this issue, and we take time for contemplation. This is both with regard to our failings of two millennia ago, which brought on the tragedy of the Churban, the destruction, and what we must do today to correct ourselves.
Focus is on increased faith and connection to God; loving kindness to fellow Jews (it was baseless hatred that helped to bring the downfall); a strong sense of ourselves, and our ability to achieve what we are intended to be; and both moral integrity and concern for the people as we live our lives and make our decisions.
All of this speaks to us loudly today.
In the context of Tisha B'Av it is easy to understand the importance to the Jewish people of Har Habayit -- the Temple Mount. To demean our connection to this place, and worse, to willingly surrender it, is to treat lightly our ancient heritage and all that we were and aspire again to be.
It is in this vein that I deplore the agreement by Israeli officials that Jews will not pray on the Mount, so as to not upset Arabs. It is time for us to reassert our rights.
I would add here one fact that I suspect many are unaware of: When we pray for the rebuilding of the Temple, we envision it as a "House of God for all peoples." This is unique, and astounding. We are not praying that all the world should become Jewish -- not at all. Rather, we pray that all peoples should know God, each in their own way, and connect with the spirit of the Almighty via this House of God.
While I was contemplating the meaning of Tisha B'Av yesterday, Mitt Romney was delivering a speech here in Israel, to the Jerusalem Foundation, with the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem as backdrop.
Campaign speech or not, it was astounding in what it said, and inspires hope renewed.
Some excerpts of Romney's speech (emphasis added):
"To step foot into Israel is to step foot into a nation that began with an ancient promise made in this land...now this nation has come to take its place among the most impressive democracies on earth. Israel’s achievements are a wonder of the modern world.
"These achievements are a tribute to the resilience of the Israeli people. You have managed, against all odds, time and again throughout your history, to persevere, to rise up, and to emerge stronger.
"...It is a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.
"Our two nations are separated by more than 5,000 miles. But for an American abroad, you can’t get much closer to the ideals and convictions of my own country than you do in Israel...We serve the same cause and provoke the same hatreds in the same enemies of civilization.
"It is my firm conviction that the security of Israel is in the vital national security interest of the United States. And ours is an alliance based not only on shared interests but also on enduring shared values.
"...At this time [Tisha B'Av], we also remember the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches who were massacred at the Munich Olympics forty years ago...tragedies like these are not reserved to the past. They are a constant reminder of the reality of hate, and the will with which it is executed upon the innocent
"...So it is today, as Israel faces enemies who deny past crimes against the Jewish people and seek to commit new ones.
"When Iran’s leaders deny the Holocaust or speak of wiping this nation off the map, only the naïve – or worse – will dismiss it as an excess of rhetoric. Make no mistake: the ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defenses. They want to know who will object, and who will look the other way.
"My message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away; and neither will my country.
"We have seen the horrors of history. We will not stand by. We will not watch them play out again.
"It would be foolish not to take Iran’s leaders at their word. They are, after all, the product of a radical theocracy.
"...We have a solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran’s leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions.
"...It is sometimes said that those who are the most committed to stopping the Iranian regime from securing nuclear weapons are reckless and provocative and inviting war.
"The opposite is true. We are the true peacemakers...
"We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option. We must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability. We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. We recognize Israel’s right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with you.
"...in 1948, President Harry Truman decided without hesitation that the United States would be the first country to recognize the State of Israel. From that moment to this, we have been the most natural of allies, but our alliance runs deeper than the designs of strategy or the weighing of interests.
"The story of how America – a nation still so new to the world by the standards of this ancient region – rose up to become the dear friend of the people of Israel is among the finest and most hopeful in our nation’s history.
"Different as our paths have been, we see the same qualities in one another. Israel and America are in many respects reflections of one another.
"We both believe in democracy, in the right of every people to select their leaders and choose their nation’s course.
"We both believe in the rule of law, knowing that in its absence, willful men may incline to oppress the weak.
"We both believe that our rights are universal, granted not by government but by our Creator.
"We both believe in free enterprise, because it is the only economic system that has lifted people from poverty, created a large and enduring middle class, and inaugurated incomparable achievements and human flourishing.
"As someone who has spent most of his life in business, I am particularly impressed with Israel’s cutting edge technologies and thriving economy. We recognize yours as the 'start-up nation' – and the evidence is all around us.
"...Finally, we both believe in freedom of expression, because we are confident in our ideas and in the ability of men and women to think for themselves....
"That is the way it is in a free society.
"...I believe that the enduring alliance between the State of Israel and the United States of America is more than a strategic alliance: it is a force for good in the world. America’s support of Israel should make every American proud. We should not allow the inevitable complexities of modern geopolitics to obscure fundamental touchstones. No country or organization or individual should ever doubt this basic truth: A free and strong America will always stand with a free and strong Israel.
"And standing by Israel does not mean with military and intelligence cooperation alone.
"We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel, voice their criticisms. And we certainly should not join in that criticism. Diplomatic distance in public between our nations emboldens Israel’s adversaries.
"By history and by conviction, our two countries are bound together.
"...Thank you all. May God bless America, and may He bless and protect the Nation of Israel.
You can find the full text of that speech here:
And video, in two parts, of the full speech here:
I would have to write a book to mark all the differences between what Romney said here and what Obama has stood for, going on four years now. Undoubtedly I will return to this. Obama visited Israel as a candidate too, although he has not been here as president. I remember it all vividly, for his behavior was a tip-off that rang bells for me.
At about the time Obama arrived here, there had been a terrorist attack in Jerusalem. From Jerusalem he went to Sderot, near the Gaza border, where he learned about innocent Israelis subject to rocket attacks. Leaving Israel, he went to make a major speech in Germany, in pale imitation of John Kennedy. In his talk he spoke about nations subject to terrorism, and he neglected to mention Israel. Ah! I thought.
Then, when he was newly inaugurated, the very first international "leader" he called was Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. Ah! again.
And it's been downhill ever since: Obama specifically invited members of the Muslim Brotherhood to his Cairo speech. Obama deliberately set a policy of "neutrality" with regard to Israel's differences with the PA, which permitted light between the US and Israel. Obama was overtly rude to PM Netanyahu at the White House. Obama set the bar for negotiations higher for Israel, by making the PA demand also his demand: the basis must be the '67 line. And the most recent incident, of just days ago: the White House spokesman refused to say Jerusalem was Israel's capital.
Please my friends, share the news of Romney's speech far and wide. Americans must understand the difference between the two candidates.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.