Tisha B’Av – Beyond the Temple

Photo Credit: Jeff Siegel, Bend the Arc, 7/22/18

Yesterday, on Tisha B’Av, the organization “Bend The Arc” held a gathering on the steps of the Nassau County Legislature building in Mineola to request that Nassau County stop cooperating with ICE. Tisha B’Av is the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, when we commemorate the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem, the ensuing exile that rendered the Jewish residents of the Land of Israel refugees and immigrants, and other calamities that befell the Jewish people on that date.

Held in 18 states across the country, “Tisha B’Av for Immigrant Justice, presents a simple, yet strong, message: Our collective history of Jews is one of being “strangers in a strange land,” of exile, uprootedness, of wandering and not always feeling safe where we live.

I’m not normally a fan of rallies and protests, and to be honest, the main reason I went to this event was to have something to take up time during this long fast day. I have no problem fasting on Yom Kippur, leading services keeps me quite busy and away from the fridge!

It wasn’t a life-changing experience, but it was definitely life-affirming to see men and women of all ages and across many streams of Judaism coming together for something they feel passionate about. It was a small, but good-sized group, there was no press (that I know of) and whether or not it will make a difference, who knows? But as I’ve often said about prayer, it won’t necessarily change the world, but it can change us.”

Fast forward from 11:30am to 3:30pm, when the Valley Stream Jewish Center and Congregation Shaaray Shalom joined the Malverne Jewish Center for an afternoon Tisha B’Av service followed by a presentation about the work of Father Patrick DesBois and Yahad-in-Unum. He and his organization have been working to find mass graves of Jews who were executed by the Einsatzgruppen, the Nazi “killing squads,” which annihilated entire Jewish communities before the gas chambers, with which we’re more familiar, came into use. Not only did Nazi soldiers carry out these executions, they did so with the support and assistance of non-Jews on those communities; people who for decades had lived side by side, but whether out of strong antisemitism, fear or a combination, were willing to commit heinous crimes.

I will be very clear. The United States is not Nazi German, and ICE and border patrol agents aren’t einsatzgruppen, but both could potentially claim that they’re “just following orders” when it comes to separating children from parents, deporting someone whose only “crime” was a broken tail light, or denying someone basic human dignity because of their ethnicity. Safe borders are certainly important, and I hope and pray that the men and women who are working with potential immigrants display common sense and, follow the dictum of the great rabbi Hillel, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.”

Tish a B’Av isn’t just about mourning what was lost, but about hope for the future. The United States has always been looked at as a haven for the oppressed and a shining beam to those looking for a better life for themselves and their families. May we continue to look forward to and work towards a bright future for us, and for all who hope to make this wonderful country their home.

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