All that you have is your soul (Tracy Chapman).

Sunday, 14 August 2005

Tisha B'av - My Very Special Memory

Last night was the start of Tisha B'av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. On this very day throughout history, terrible things have happened to the Jewish people. Both Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed; the Inquisition began; the Jews were exiled from England in 1290; The First World War started, which directly led to WWII and so on. These events are documented in the annals of history and if you compare the Gregorian dates, you will see that they do indeed match up with the same Hebrew date. It is truly bizarre and horrifying.

Without labouring the point, let me take you on a little journey and tell you about one of the most incredibly powerful moments of my life (aside from getting married and watching my kids being born, which as any parent knows, is as good as life gets).

Twelve years ago, I spent a month in Israel, from Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) through to the Simchat Torah (the last of the festivals after Sukkot, Tabernacles). I decided to visit the newly opened Western Wall tunnels. These ran alongside the hidden part of the Wall in Jerusalem and weaved their way under existing houses. At the time, the other entrance (which caused so much trouble in 1996) had yet to be opened.

We followed the guide and moved alongside the Wall. At one point, we came to a spot, directly below the Holy of Holies, in fact closer to the spot than the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would have reached on Yom Kippur when he entered the darkness of the Kodesh Hakadoshim (Holy of Holies) and came face to face with the Ark of the Covenant.

We continued and reached an arch that had been discovered through the excavations. Incredibly, through this arch, there was a passage that came out dead centre on the Temple Mount. Unfortunately, when the arch was discovered in 1968 (soon after Israel recaptured Jerusalem), the Arabs started complaining about the dig and so the excavators concreted the area.

I am digressing.

We continued walking and entered a room that had recently been discovered. In the walls therein, one could see the ash that remained from the burning (Churban) of the Second Temple. There was an old Jerusalem custom that this ash used to be put on the forehead of a Chatan, a bridegroom, before he got married, to remind him and everyone present of the Temples' destruction.

I touched this ash and had the most amazing spiritual experience. Here I was, connecting with the remains of the actual Temple, nearly 2000 years after it had been destroyed. I was dipping my fingers into our history at the epicentre of our culture. This ash was my connection with the past.

I don't know if I am conveying the extraordinary feeling and emotion that I experienced from having this ash on my fingertips. I can only describe the moment as being spiritually beyond this earth. It was as though the whole of Jewish history rested in this ash and I can honestly say that from that moment, I realised how truly blessed I am to be a member of the Jewish nation.

Tisha B'av is about the destruction of the Temples. For me, it is also about the Shoah (the Holocaust) and the murder of my ancestors and family. But Tisha B'av is also about re-birth. If I could be in a position to touch the past - something that my great-grandparents could never have done - then this was true continuity - in other words, there was a direct link between the Jews of Old and yours truly.

We are a stiff-necked people and this is shown in everything we do. The fact that after so much persecution, we can stand proud and tell the world (and the UN) that, despite their wishes, we will not die, or give in to our enemies - demonstrates that we will never disappear.

The Second Temple in Jerusalem, the Beit Hamikdash, may have been physically destroyed. Spiritually though, it still remains, in the walls of those Tunnels in Jerusalem. Go visit and you will never forget the experience.

I wanted to relate the story of the ash for quite a while. I kept it for Tisha B'av, because it is only really on this day that one can have any understanding of how the story still affects me. G-d works in mysterious ways and allowing me to be privileged enough (and alive at that very moment) to have such an experience is extremely humbling.

May the Messiah come speedily in our days and may we all share in the rebuilding of Jerusalem.
From ashes to re-birth.

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