L'Chaim

Jewish World Review / July 21, 1999 /8 Menachem-Av, 5759


Jewish summers --- a time lag

By Yaffa Ganz

THERE IS NO DOUBT that the Jewish calendar is out of whack with the Gregorian calendar which regulates and reigns supreme over the Western world.

Comes the summer brimming with expectations of vacation, freedom and fun, and along with it, neck and neck, come the 17th of Tammuz and the beginning of the Three Weeks of Mourning leading to the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. (We are speaking of events which took place respectively 2500 and 2000 years ago. Let it not be said that we Jews are a flighty people. We take our historical afflictions seriously, carrying them on our backs with great determination and pertinacity!)

If Three Weeks of mourning aren't enough to dampen a summer's delight, we progress into the last nine days - the famous "Nine Days" which end with the 9th of Av, the date of the destruction of both Temples - the First by the Babylonians and the Second by the Romans. Do you know anyone at all who keeps a living relationship going with long-dead Babylonians and Romans except for the Jewish people? And to allow them to ruin a good part of my long-awaited summer vacation (there are many halachic limitations during this period - no weddings, no music, no purchase of new homes or clothing, and frivolous things like vacations are definitely frowned upon) is, to put it mildly, a bit much. It well nigh knocks you out of line with the rest of the world out there and leaves you wondering if living Jewish means ossification or rejeuvenation.

Econophone Personally, I vote for rejeuvenation. When I look eastward from my veranda and see the city of Jerusalem arisen from two millenia of literal ashes and destruction, when I see the late afternoon rays of the sun engulf the city in rose and gold, when I see a sea of twinkling city lights mirroring God's celestial display on an inky black night, I know that part of my summer vacation is a small price to pay to keep the memory and knowledge of Jerusalem alive in Jewish hearts.

For the Jerusalem we know today is only a small link in a long chain. Anyone who sees only Yafo or Ben Yehuda streets, the Knesset, the Museum, the mall, even the Judean hills surrounding the city... is still a stranger to the true essence of the city. In its ancient splendor, with its Holy Temple, Jerusalem personified the concepts of Godliness, justice and love; and it embodied the unique function of the Jewish people in the world. Jerusalem is meant to be a connecting point between the Divine and the Human, between the source of all Good and the potential for good which humanity represents. The destruction of the Temple was like a massive heart attack which disrupted the direct lines of communication between G-d and His world.

This sort of knowledge is undoubtedly a heavy burden for a city, or a people, to drag along two thousand years of history.

But without it, Jerusalem, the eternal place it occupies in the heart of the Jew, and the hold it has on the heart of the rest of the world, is incomprehensible. Without its long, difficult, demanding past, Jerusalem is just another Tokyo or New York.

Without its past, its present is irrelevant, its future insecure.

Which, of course, is why after two thousand years, we still mourn and fast on Tisha B'Av (the 9th of Av). Even as we wend our way through the crowded streets of the Old City, at long last under Jewish sovereignty and throbbing with the vim, vigor and vitality that only a highly animated people can bring, we know that the spiritual Jerusalem is not yet "rebuilt". It's in the process, but we've still got a way to go.

For Jerusalem is the site of an ongoing, interactive relationship with the Divine. And like the rest of the Land of Israel (and the Jewish people!), it's frustrating, maddening, impossible; wonderful, inspiring and very humbling.

The rabbis said, "He who mourns for Jerusalem will be privileged to rejoice in her rejoicing." May we turn our summer vacations into times of utter rejoicing, Divine connectedness, justice, love, and holiness.

And with that said, I'm going out to make reservations for my post Tisha B'Av summer vacation before all the hotels fill up.


JWR contributor Yaffa Ganz is the award winning author of Cinnamon and Myrrh (Feldheim Publishers Jerusalem/New York) and All Things Considered (Mesorah Publications N.Y.). She has written more than forty Jewish juvenile titles including Sand and Stars - a 2000 year saga of Jewish history for teen readers.


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©1999, Yaffa Ganz