The Jewish day of mourning on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, called Tisha B’Av, reminds us of the terrible things that have happened to my people. Destruction of our two holy temples. The Inquisition. The Crusades. Pogroms in Eastern Europe. And, of course, the Holocaust. Also, today, as we are witnessing a terrifying rise of antisemitism, it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing ourselves as victims. And that’s why I will not observe Tisha B’Av any more.
The observance of a national Jewish day of mourning is dangerous. And it is wrong.
It reinforces the theme of “Jew as Victim.” And I will never see myself as a victim. I am part of the victorious Am Yisrael, the Jewish people, who despite everything, have survived for many millennia. We have our own country. We have won nearly 25 percent of all Nobel prizes with less than two tenths of one percent of the world’s population. Don’t tell me Israel should be boycotted unless you are prepared to give up your cell phone, Instant messaging, your USB flash drives and your computer’s firewall, all developed in Israel.
Do some people hate Jews? Yes. Do some people hate Italians, Irish, Germans, African-Americans, Latinx? Yes. Yes. Yes. Does that keep me from being proud of my people? As we say in Kentucky, “Not no, but Hell no!”
I’m not Jewish because of the Holocaust, or the Crusades, or the Inquisition. I want to stop repeating “שְׁפֹךְ חֲמָתְךָ אֶל-הַגּוֹיִם” at the Seder every year, imploring God to pour out His wrath upon the nations. Let’s be Jewish for the right reasons. I remember a HIAS slogan a few years ago emphasizing that the organization began by helping immigrants because they were Jews but today it helps all immigrants because we are Jews.
Having said this, I realize my point of view is unpopular. Even my son, a rabbi, disagrees, believing that a national day of mourning is valuable for Jews. But I prefer the way Israel observes Yom Hazikaron, a memorial day that is somber, remembering the people who died fighting for the state. But then at sundown it immediately shifts into the joyous celebration of Yom H’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day with gala shows, family parties and a military air show over the Mediterranean. These aren’t commercial holidays like they are in America, with special sales. Instead they are meaningful commemorations, and a profound transition from darkness to light. I want my sense of Am Yisrael to focus on the light, on our achievements and our victories, not the victimization of the past.
When I look in the mirror, I don’t want to see the poor, quaking shlemeil, the long-suffering scapegoat. I want to see a powerful victor. Arik Sharon or Chaim Topol. Bold and decisive. Looking forward with a bright eye and confidence that we have been here for thousands of years and we’re not going away. We are powerful and we refuse to be anyone’s victims any more.