Tisha B'Av experience in Jerusalem

    June 2008            
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Opinion & Society


Stone Streets

By Miryam Meier-Howard

I took part in a walk around the Old City of Jerusalem, with hundreds of others, on the eve of Tish b'av (the 9th day of the Biblical month of Av). We met in the downtown center of Jerusalem at 9:30 PM, and while sitting on the ground, reflecting an act of mourning, we read the Book of Lamentations together.

"The elders of the daughter of Zion

Sit on the ground and keep silence;

They throw dust on their heads

And gird themselves with sackcloth.

The virgins of Jerusalem

Bow their heads to the ground.

Lamentations 2:10

We then proceeded to walk together around the walled city, beginning at Damascus Gate, and ending at the Dung Gate. There, many continued to pray into the early morning hours at the Kotel (Western Wall of prayer). Many of us carried orange flags that read:

"The Land of Israel For the People of Israel"

Others draped Israel's national flag, depicting the Shield of David over their shoulders. Walking together through these ancient streets, we all found strength in numbers as we mourned the destruction of our Temples, and the many other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. There were people present from throughout the world; old and young, religious, and non, all circling the walled city. Spontaneous singing arose, and shofars were blown, penetrating the night from among the crowd.

The sight of hundreds of people streaming through the streets of Jerusalem was indescribable. I imagined what it must have been like during the feasts, when the Temple still stood strong and tall on this holy mountain.

Although I have made several trips to my homeland, Israel, this was my first time in the Land on Tish b'av.

As I passed the Flower Gate, young Arabs looked out of upstairs windows and stood before their shops motionless. Their stares were piercing, with arms folded across their chests. The cold reality could not be avoided. Our very presence said that this Land belonged to us, -- the Jews, and not to them. An Arab woman appeared from the shadows, and clung to the wall as she walked next to us, attempting to avoid the Jewish presence that filled the street. Her appearance did not seem sensible. It wasn't long and two police officers scurried to escort her off the street. Was she a ploy, or just not very smart?

A woman walking next to me also witnessing this said,

"Do you know what would happen if this situation was reversed, and there was one Jewish woman on the street with hundreds of Arabs?" Her question didn't need an answer.

The Police and IDF were everywhere. Like pepper on pasta. I have never seen such security. Everywhere I looked, they were standing with M-16's ready and strapped across their chests. Rooftop corners were covered, and even where there was only blackness, I could make out a small blinking security light, which meant that a soldier was standing there. Waiting. Watching. Ready.

About mid-way on the walk, just before approaching the Lions Gate, a wave of emotion overwhelmed me. I am not normally given to such outward emotion. I couldn't contain the tears that I found suddenly rolling down my face. My breath became tormented, fighting itself to be released to the wails of intersession that desired to charge forth. I resorted to self-management mode and questioned myself, "Where is this coming from….What is going on with me?"

Without another thought, I could sense the prophetic-ness of what I was taking part in. Of all the places in the whole world, here I was, encircling the walled city, where the Temple once stood. My head downward, I stared at each one of my feet, as I planted them upon the ancient stone street of Eretz Israel.

A divine connection began to unfold between all of the faces around me. I could feel the ache of every heart present that hungered for Messiah. Suddenly I found myself interceding,

"Please G-d hear the cries of your people Israel….Forgive us, for we have rebelled against You"

After some time, I looked up to get my bearings, and noticed a woman in a green baseball cap walking along side me. Our steps seemed to be matched in cadence. I wiped my face and turned towards her and smiled.

"Do you know exactly where we are right now?"

I asked her, realizing after I spoke that my voice was shaking.

The woman eagerly explained that we had just passed the Flower Gate a few minutes ago.

More tears… this time I tried to mutter a comment of apology to this woman I didn't know. What a basket case I must appear to be, I thought.

"My name is Hanna", she said, and hugged my arm.

"You are feeling the emotion of this place", she stated like someone who knew well.

Her friendly gesture seemed to sooth my soul, and for the first time in a while, I took a deep breath.

Still walking, I told her my name and that this was the first time I had been in Israel on Tish b'av.

"How many times have you been on this walk?",

I asked, trying to compose myself.

"Fourteen years", she replied.

I suddenly felt like an infant. Fourteen years of circling the Temple Mount, compared to my not yet one! It wasn't like I felt some competition in my heart; it was more like an overwhelming thankfulness to Hanna for doing this each year; -- for standing in the gap for all of us that have not been there.

"Thank you Hanna," I said.

It was one of those times that you just know those two words aren't enough, but you also know that there are not enough words in any language that can contain the magnitude of meaning needed.

What a precious soul I thought; ---Hanna suddenly gone, as gracefully as she appeared.

As I sit, a few days later and scribe what took place in my heart on the night of Tish b'av, what comes to mind is not the history of disasters; although these must not be forgotten, but a vision of future victories. I see the books of the Tanach unfold; when we will have a new Temple in our midst, and Messiah will reign as Lion of Judah! As our footsteps marked the way of our hearts on this Tish b'av, so can we today hear the footsteps of Messiah coming in the distance. He is coming, like a Groom for his Bride!

Meanwhile, I ponder….

Can the world ever come to any peace solutions? Can Jew and Arab ever be loving neighbors? Will we ever see G-dly leadership in political office?

It is man that has created the state of the world we are now living in. Just as it was man that defiled the Holy Temple before it's destruction. That is the very reason for its destruction, not some foreign troop of thugs. Let's be honest.

If true peace were in our abilities, don't you think we could have figured it out by now? Have we ever known, throughout the history of the Hebrew people, when a second chance actually worked?

When we offer the greeting, "Shalom, Shalom" to those we pass on the streets, do we actually have the ability to genuinely experience it?

I will close my little window of thought with one more.

Suppose the Tanach is actually a true book? Do you think perhaps we could save ourselves a lot of confusion, turmoil, and fear by getting to know exactly what this Book of prophetic riches holds? What might happen if all of G-d's people chose to look upon these Holy Words, instead of running to a yoga class, or a therapist, or a Tibetan mountain top, to fill their void.

Imagine if we actually began to pray like Daniel prayed, --- worship like David worshipped, --- obey like Joshua and Caleb obeyed? Trust G-d like Ruth trusted?

Yes, there were mega problems then too, but do you think if G-d could use these prophets in the midst of the problems then, that maybe He could also use us today?

As I continue to deal with these tears flooding my heart, I see my steps once again upon the stone streets, and I can hear the sweet whisper of the Groom as He calls out to His Bride,

"I long to hear your prayers, and enter into your worship. By your obedience I will surround you, and by your trust I will anoint you for healing"

Tish b'Av

A day of tears. A day of promise.

A day of decision.


from the July 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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