Typically falling in mid-summer is the relatively unfamiliar 24-hour Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av. I often call this commemoration the Jewish Memorial Day, as it memorializes the tragedies and martyrs of the Jewish people from antiquity until the present.
Many ethnic and faith communities dedicate days to remembering their peoples’ past tragedies. It is difficult to relate to such events when far removed by time and space. On Tisha B’Av my faith community recalls and mourns millennia of suffering and martyrdom, while paradigmatically highlighting the destructions of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, and the loss of Jewish national independence, to the Babylonians over 2600 years ago and to the Romans some 600 years later.
Although the destruction of the Second Temple and commonwealth was at the hands of the Roman Empire, Jewish tradition teaches that its root cause was senseless, internal hatred. America is not yet at that point, but I fear the internal divisions which were intense enough to lead to the storming of our capitol building last year.
The following re-imagines the destruction of the First Jewish Temple and commonwealth through an anachronistic American lens. Maybe it can help us better appreciate an ancient tragedy as well as recognize potential risks for our nation if we cannot find a way to begin coming together. We should also recognize that there are those around the world, like in Ukraine, who live with similar destruction today.
Imagine a foreign enemy, aided by internal, domestic divisions, attacked the United States and made its way to our nation's capital, leaving mass destruction and death in its wake. Imagine they isolated the city and waited until garbage, sickness, fear, starvation, psychological disturbance and the implosion of civil society progressively deepened. They then breached our defenses and systematically wreaked havoc, fighting building by building, until they destroyed our national monuments, treasures and federal buildings, save for an outer casement wall of the capitol complex destined to become a shrine to later generations.
Imagine they transferred our political, economic and intellectual leadership to their own country while leaving the bulk of the working population. Without both blue collar workers and those possessing advanced educational expertise and experience in administration and governance our flourishing society was crippled.
Imagine sophisticated technology and communications were eradicated, leaving a more primitive life bereft of the ability to contact loved ones; unable to learn what befell them or to share mutual love, consolation and support. Meanwhile, this foe left their own military and administrators to rule over our decimated land.
Imagine that accompanying the destruction of physical institutions, America lost its shared communal commitment, built upon the essential words of its foundational documents. This civil and spiritual center was obliterated alongside its functionaries and scholars who served, taught and exemplified the American tradition and values.
Such a massive devastation and tragedy would be an unimaginable calamity of incalculable proportions. And such was the destruction of the Jewish nation, its people, and its temple — twice in antiquity.
Perhaps Tisha B’Av can serve not only as a Jewish memorial day, but also as a warning for our nation to begin making conscious efforts to move in another, more healing direction. America always thrives behind healthy diversity; culturally and intellectually. We are most at risk when the value of American unity begins to ebb.
What can we do to ensure that our nation never approaches my dystopian images? It will take each of us deciding to struggle for the whole that is greater than the sum of any individual parts to answer that question.