I have a favourite Tisha B’Av memory. This may seem somewhat strange to you. After all, vialis 40mg Tisha B’Av is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, drugs the day when the Temple was destroyed, Jerusalem was sacked, tens of thousands of Jews were killed and the Jewish people were expelled from their Land to begin blood-soaked centuries of exile. We spend the day fasting and remembering past failures and misfortunes. It is not a day that lends itself to fond memories.
On the afternoon of August 8th, 2011 I arrived in Israel on the eve of Tisha B’Av with my wife for a brief two week visit. I am in Israel on a fairly regular basis, and lived there for several years. I’ve studied there, worked there and served in the army. By contrast, this visit was my wife’s first time back to the country in seven years. As we left the plane and walked into the airport terminal, she looked around in amazement.
“It’s all different from last time!” she exclaimed as she took in Ben Gurion airport. “Where did all this come from? I don’t recognize anything!”
During my wife’s last visit to Israel, Ben Gurion International Airport had consisted of one small terminal. Since then, the airport had tripled in size in a little over half a decade. The new terminals were spacious, modern and clean. The airport was unrecognizable to someone who had been away from the country for just a few years. It was an iconic sign of the country’s rapid growth and dynamism.
We spent the night of Tisha B’Av in Jerusalem’s Old City at the Western Wall. There, along with thousands of people, I sat on the ground for an hour or two and mourned the destruction my people had endured. As you may imagine, it was an intense experience. Later, as we walked back to the apartment where we were staying, I beheld a most wondrous sight.
Standing below the ancient walls of the Old City, I saw a shiny modern train running along Jerusalem’s brand new light-rail network. I hadn’t been in Jerusalem for two years, so this was the first time I had actually seen the new light-rail network in operation. To put it plainly, this sight filled me with joy.
Perhaps one has to have spent some time in Jerusalem to understand why I would be excited by the sight of something as mundane as a commuter train. Downtown Jerusalem is a maze of old, narrow, winding streets that simply cannot accommodate the amount of traffic generated by the modern city that exists today. This makes rush hour driving in Jerusalem a particularly frustrating experience. Commutes that should take ten minutes end up taking an hour. The air and noise pollution caused by the constant traffic congestion is horrendous.
The light-rail was conceived as a solution to these problems. It would allow commuters to use environmentally friendly public transit while avoiding the gridlocked traffic. It would allow the City to lower the number of unwieldy fume spewing buses on the streets and increase the popularity of public transit. It would transform downtown Jerusalem’s noisy congested main-street into a cleaner road reserved for pedestrians, cyclists and the new light-rail trains.
In 2005 I had been a young engineer just out of McGill University working for a civil engineering firm in Israel. I can remember looking at the original plans for the light-rail lines, closing my eyes and trying to imagine what Jerusalem would look like once it was finally built. I also remember shaking my head and laughing, thinking to myself that this ambitious project would never be completed to its full extent.
Indeed, as the years went by, my cynicism seemed to be vindicated. Construction of the light-rail made traffic problems even worse. The project was over budget and overdue. Certain parts of the system had to be torn down and rebuilt multiple times. Yet, despite all the pitfalls along the way, the first major light-rail line was finally completed.
Just before seeing the light-rail for the first time, I had been at the Western Wall mourning Jerusalem’s past destruction. The light-rail, however, was a sign of the city’s current resurgence. The sight of the new rail line juxtaposed against the Old City was the perfect symbol of a revived Jerusalem, an emblem of Zionism’s vision. It was something that could immensely improve the quality of life for all Jerusalemites. People had refused to settle for the status-quo and, despite numerous blunders along the way, ultimately managed to build something that could make their lives better. In many ways it was a microcosm of Israeli history.
This became a recurring theme of our visit to Israel that summer. One of the prime security challenges facing Israel today is the ability of terrorist groups to bombard its border cities with thousands of rockets. During the Second Lebanon War of 2006, I served as a soldier in the IDF in northern Israel. I saw rocket barrages cause death and destruction, paralyzing whole cities filled with hundreds of thousands of people.
On August 18th, 2011 violence flared up between Israel and terrorist groups in Gaza. Hamas and other groups began firing rockets at cities and towns in southern Israel. However, Israel had recently installed a new rocket defence system called Iron Dome. This system had been developed at great expense over the course of years. Yet, once installed, it intercepted many rockets before they could even reach a populated area. Several days later, over coffee, one of my old commanders from the IDF’s fortification and urban rescue units could joke that Iron Dome might make his job obsolete in the future.
There is a famous story in the Talmud (Makkot 24b) where Rabbi Akiva, Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah and Rabbi Joshua visit Jerusalem several decades after it had been sacked by the Romans. The city had yet to recover from the destruction and was a desolate place. As they saw the ruin of the Temple Mount from atop Mount Scopus, four of the rabbis wept, while Rabbi Akiva laughed. As his companions gazed at him in consternation, Rabbi Akiva explained that, having seen Jerusalem destroyed, he could now rejoice in anticipation of its future restoration.
We spend the night and morning of Tisha B’Av weeping over past disasters. Yet the afternoon is Menachem Av, when we begin to console ourselves and look forward to the future redemption, encapsulating the spirit of Rabbi Akiva. I always had some trouble with this shift in attitude, until the night I saw that train outside the Old City walls. For me, it encapsulated the spirit of a stiff-necked people that, no matter how bad the situation is, never gives up. Even if we’re surrounded by enemies and wracked with internal dissension, we still find a way to build, to make things better.
There are those who say that with a prosperous and powerful State of Israel, Tisha B’Av no longer has the same relevance to Jews. I would disagree. The past disasters that we mourn on Tisha B’Av may have been physical, but they had their source in spiritual and moral failings. In the past, our mutual hatred, corruption and despair paved the way to our subsequent destruction.
As Jews we can look with pride at Israel’s shiny new airports, trains and cutting edge anti-rocket systems. Yet it is important to remember that these things are not just important in and of themselves, but also because they represent the spirit of a people that will, God-willing, continue to survive and thrive. This is not just a matter of technology, but the morality and worldview embodied by that technology. Tisha B’Av reminds us of that basic fact. Have a meaningful fast.
By David Herz – Montreal Jewish News