Thursday, September 11, 2008

An American Tisha B'Av

Three years ago, Jonathan Gurwitz at the Jewish World Review suggested the creation of an American Tisha B'Av.

What does that mean?
The Jewish people set aside one particular day to commemorate the many calamities that have befallen them throughout history. Tisha B'Av is literally the ninth day of the month of Av on the Hebrew calendar. Normally it falls in August.

According to tradition, it is the date of the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem and the beginning of the Babylonian exile. It is also the date of the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans and the beginning of the Diaspora. And it is the date of the decree expelling the Jews from Spain in 1492.
While traditionally all three of those disasters fell on the same date, other disasters are also mourned on that date. Many consider it inappropriate to create a new day of observance for new disasters, so there is some dispute over the appropriateness of a separate date for Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance).

Why just one day? As Gurwitz explains:
The human ability to do evil often appears to be unbounded. Our capacity for sorrow, on the other hand, is limited. If we can bind up all the terrible things in life on one single day, the remainder of the year in some sense becomes bearable.

There is another possible motive. We owe the dead our reverence — the men and women who perished in burning buildings, the children shot in a gymnasium, the people drowned in the storm. But our grief must not be allowed to consume the rest of our days and immobilize us from the duty to the living.
The two American events Gurwitz combines in his article are both recent: 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Of course, if one followed the model, several other days could be included in the observance.

August 24, 1814: British troops invade DC and burn down the White House
December 7, 1941: The Attack on Pearl Harbor
September 8, 1900: The Galveston Hurricane (Still the deadliest natural disaster in US history)

There are many who would object to the combination of Patriot Day and Pearl Harbor Day, understandably, as both events are still fresh and distinct in our minds. But over time new disasters - natural and man made - are bound to occur. The nation might see the advantages for combining the two, with other events that were just as devastating in their day but have been replaced over time (and sadly forgotten by many) because our capacity for mourning is limited.

My own personal preference for the day of choice would be September 1 - since it seems to be roughly in the middle of several of the more prominent disasters. Though there would be advantages to having it in the summer sometime when more older youth are at home with their families.

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