This year, starting on the evening of August 10th till the evening of August 11th, the Jewish people commemorate the day known as Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av. It is the day that commemorates the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem and as it is universally recognized as the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, it is also a day in which the Jewish people remember the greatest tragedies in our history. Specifically for those of us in this generation, the murder of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. For me personally, in many ways this is my most important Tisha B’Av.
When I wrote the book Jew Face, telling about my parent’s experiences in Holland during the Nazi-occupation, one of the most remarkable aspects of writing it was that I felt as though I went back into time and was with my parents as young adults. This experience, for lack of a better term, was an incredibly “cool” experience and to be honest one I loved experiencing. But as is the case with so much in life there is a flip side. In my recent trip to Amsterdam that same, I guess I will call it sensation, returned for the first time since writing the book. Except this time it was not as pleasant. Walking through Amsterdam, specifically the former Jewish neighborhoods, I felt the horror that took place between 1940 and 1945. Standing in front of what was once the “NIZ”, the Dutch Jewish Hospital, I could almost sense the Nazi trucks approaching, the soldiers storming the building, and knew that I was within meters of the place where my mother shouted to the chief Nazi administrator, ” why are you doing this?”, to which he replied, “ask the Rabbis”. I walked on the street that was likely my father’s favorite street on any given Shabbat and could feel what was once an incredible presence of Judaism. I walked through the streets of Amsterdam at times feeling what I could only describe as the presence of ghosts in what to me was in some ways a graveyard of what was once a thriving Jewish community.
I recognize that I can not know how much of this experience was real and how much of it was just something I felt from within, but since it was more an experience than an overall state of mind I don’t feel it matters one way or another. What does matter however, as I get close to the commemoration of the saddest day of the Jewish year, that I felt the greatest sadness I have ever felt as a Jew for the plight of my people. Intellectually I have understood the importance of Tisha B’Av for much of my life. Emotionally however, I have never understood as I do today, and go into it with an understanding that makes this my most important Tisha B’Av. A Tisha B’Av in which I have a better emotional understanding of the pain and suffering this day honors and remembers, and the hope that that same pain and suffering is not only never something the Jewish people ever experience again, but that the evil that causes it is never given the power to do that anywhere again or to anyone again on this earth.
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