July 2015 – From Rabbi Siemers
There is a famous story told about Napoleon Bonaparte and the Ninth of Av. The story is usually set in Russia and the emperor is walking by a synagogue and he hears the wailing and lamenting. He asks why the Jews are carrying on so and is told that they are mourning the destruction of the Temple. When he is informed that this Temple was destroyed 1700 years previously, he states that a people who hang on to their history for such a long time and with such strength are bound to achieve their national restoration.
Like many really good stories, this one is probably not true. At least as far the Napoleon part of it goes, there is no evidence on the scholarship side to indicate that this exchange ever happened. But the story speaks strongly about the way we see ourselves; we believe in the power of memory to shape the future and our observance on the Ninth of Av is a powerful expression of this belief.
I don’t particularly like to fast and the fast of the Ninth of Av is the hardest fast day of the year. The late sunset makes for a long day and, unlike Yom Kippur, there are not prayers to be said continuously throughout the day to distract one from one’s hunger. But the services that we do have on this day are some of the most moving of the year; from the chanting of Eicha in the evening in a darkened sanctuary to sitting on the floor reciting Qinot in the morning. We do not mourn just the destruction of the Temple, but the poetry of the day relates to all of our great losses: the Crusades, the Expulsion, the Holocaust. And the mood is not one of sadness but of determination as we rise at the end to sing אלי ציון and ירושלים של זהב, reminding us that we live in time in which we see hints of the restoration that was the hope of millenia.
The summer is worst time to find oneself pitching a fast day, but I hope that if you haven’t had the chance to experience the liturgy of the Ninth of Av that you will join us this year. We will begin with the chanting of Eicha at 9:00 p.m. on Saturday July 25, and continue on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. Above all, I wish all a lovely summer, and that our national instinct to remember our losses will elevate our appreciation of our many blessings.
Rabbi Bill Siemers