While thousands, millions of Jews worldwide dust off their copies of Kinote (dirges) and Eicha (the Book of Lamentations, attributed to Jeremiah, but hardly written by him), preparing to observe the tragic Fast of the 9th of Av, I am teaching a university class on English Composition II. They lament the Churban, the Destruction of both Holy Temples; I teach proper citation styles, and how to write a direct statement.
I see no incongruity in this: for decades—nearly three, to be exact—I led similar services, either the night before, or the day of—Tisha B’Av, bewailing the loss of our Sacred Houses, beating my breast, seated either on the edge of a hard wooden bench (summer camp), or on the steps of the bema (New Hampshire), as was right and proper.
As a college professor of English, now, I can look more objectively on the practice; question it, even. To be frank: what have we got to lament? I recall reading that there was to be a point where the fast days would become days of rejoicing. True, Messiah has not yet come, but Israel is strong and proud, an economic miracle, even with spending the greater portion of its Gross National Product on Defense; it has gathered in a goodly portion of the exiles (I use the term advisedly), and made us all happy to be Jewish. We American Jews, despite caterwauling over our imminent disappearance, have an infrastructure fit for a community far larger than ours; it may be pricey, but Jews who wish to affiliate have a smorgasbord of choices, from Jewish Humanism on the left, to Chabad on the right—and I seriously question whether any Jew would be turned away, if they persisted at knocking on the door of a synagogue or community center.
Again: what have we got to lament? Is it not time for us to find new meaning in this sad day of suffering—and, as my readers well know, we Jews are world-class when it comes to suffering. True, the Women of the Wall deserve equal rights; the situation on the West Bank is deplorable; the Netanyahu Government is hardly perfect, and the Iranians are still working hard on their Bomb. But Israel, and World Jewry, stand, persist, endure, and forge on, into the future, nonetheless.
What have we got to mourn about?