by Nadav Shragai
"Tisha B'Av will last forever," promised Kamal al-Khatib, deputy head of the Islamic Movement in Israel, to thousands of cheering Muslims at the Temple Mount a few days ago. Even the hearts of Jews far from the mountain saddened. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas mocked us in the same spirit a few months ago when he said, "Call yourself the Hebrew Socialist Republic - it is none of my business." He refused to accept Israel's Jewish identity. We, who have drifted away from Tisha B'Av and the Temple Mount, should be grateful to both of them, because sometimes a nation needs its haters to discover its real face in the mirror again.
Why deny it? Only a few of us still feel real pain over the destruction of the Temple some 2,000 years ago. Fewer still are attached to the Temple of yore. Tisha B'Av is filled with events organized by Temple Mount movements and groups interested in negotiations and public discourse, but the general public is not part of all that.
It is doubtful whether legislation would help in this case. It may even be harmful when the public does not feel mere indifference to this day but alienation. Regrettably, many people ignore Tisha B'Av. They wonder what mourning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple has to do with them, who are living in a sovereign Jewish state.
But there's another way that will put not only the loss of the Temple and its existence at the center of this day, but mainly the loss of Jewish sovereignty and freedom and the beginning of the long exile. Were it not for that exile, in which we were banished from our land, persecuted, oppressed and murdered, our history as a nation could have been very different.
Labor Zionist leader Berl Katznelson once said that "had Israel not mourned its destruction for generations ... we wouldn't have had Hess, Pinsker, Herzl or Nordau ... Yehuda Halevy wouldn't have been able to create 'Zion, Won't You Ask' and Bialik couldn't have written 'Scroll of Fire.'" Chaim Arlosoroff, one of the most outstanding Labor Zionist leaders, defined Tisha B'Av at the beginning of the last century as "the nation's greatest mourning day."
The Kotzker Rabbi of Poland once repented in tears, telling his followers that as a boy of 10 he had been overpowered by arrogance. After his family's house burned down and its property was lost, he comforted his weeping mother, promising that when he grew up he would write a new family tree beginning with himself, instead of the one the fire had consumed. Too many people see the Temple Mount much like little Menachem Mendel (later to become the Kotzker Rabbi) saw his family tree, believing they can skip the Temple Mount and rewrite the Jewish nation's lineage without it.
Beside the Book of Lamentations and the traditional laments it is time to call, 'Arise! Let us go up to Zion," let us go to the Temple Mount. Within the limitations of halakha and of police directives, not as a provocation or demonstration.
A heritage trip to Morocco or Poland is all well and good, but going to the Temple Mount is the real heritage trip. A trip of consciousness and study, with maps and history books in the company of archaeologists, historians, rabbis, academics, educators and commanders. A trip intended to remind us where the Jewish people's genealogical record is buried in Jerusalem. And no posters, demonstrations or ritual effects. This minimum, visiting the Temple Mount, is reserved by Israel's laws to any Jew who wants it, even if he wears a skullcap. The police, despite their balking, must allow it.
Several years ago I went on a fascinating trip of this kind with archaeologist Dan Bahat, and I have returned many times since. Even today, Tisha B'Av, after some 30 years of writing for Haaretz, I will go there. Like many others I will look back knowing that the memory of the past and heritage is in many ways also the history of our present and future, and that only thus will we improve the chance that others, including our enemies, will recognize this continuity and affinity.