Tisha B'Av

In observance of Tisha B’Av in Jerusalem, Torah scrolls are read from at the Western Wall.

Why do the Jewish people mourn on Tisha B’Av? For some it is about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. For others, it is about historical persecution of the Jews culminating in the Holocaust. For some, it’s a personal inner day for reflection and growth.

But the rabbis explained the deeper problem: “The second Temple, where they engrossed themselves in Torah, Mitzvot and acts of loving-kindness, why was it destroyed? Because there was baseless hatred (sinat chinam) in it. This is to teach you that sinat chinam is equivalent to the three cardinal sins: idolatry, sexual immorality and murder” (Yoma 9b).

It doesn’t matter how we embrace our religious lives: If we dislike each other then we’ve failed!

How are we doing locally on this issue? Is the Phoenix Jewish community cohesive and loving or is it divisive and fractured? Yes and yes. We have good evidence of organizations and activities that bring unity and a real sense of community. We also have good evidence of organizations and activities that bring divisiveness and fragmentation. We have good examples of rabbis who build bridges and good examples of those who speak poorly of others and try to build up their community while tearing down others.

Do the local Orthodox group of rabbis and the local pluralistic group of rabbis talk with each other or collaborate? How many lay leaders dissatisfied with past communal models have checked out and abandoned their responsibilities to the community? How come our engagement rates of young unaffiliated Jews is so low? How come some of our communal institutions don’t feel warm and inclusive?

Indeed, we can think about global challenges in the world on Tisha B’Av, but I also believe we need to start with our urgent work right here. The Phoenix community is a successful, thriving, vibrant community. It is also a broken, failed, tragic story. Both realities are true. But which direction will we tilt in the coming year? And will we build together? And will there be honest talk together? JN

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash, valleybeitmidrash.org.

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