Oh Zion! Surely you will ask after the well-being of your captives
Ones who seek your well-being and are the remnant of your flock
From West, East, North and South, promote the peace of near and far
As well as those bound by longing
Shedding tears like the dew on Mount Hermon
Wishing to shed them on your mountains
These are the words of Yehudah Ha-Levi, the great poet and philosopher of 12th century Spain. It is taken from the collection of elegies, called in Hebrew Qinot, that we recite during the morning service of the Ninth of Av. It is at the turn of the summer that we gather as a people to cry and moan for the afflictions we have suffered as a people. We read in somber notes from our literature of suffering beginning with the catastrophe of Babylonian destruction and exile, traveling through the terrors of Roman rule, Crusade and Inquisition, and the night of the Holocaust. It is a searing day.
So why do it? Because, it is a day of great strength. There is no more determined sound than when we rise at the end of our lamentations to chant Eli Zion. It is not an expression of victory but of survival, and in the face of everything we have faced in history our survival is the greatest miracle imaginable. That we still stand is testament to our ongoing purpose, the great need of repair that explains why 2500 years after the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon we are yet counted among the nations.
It is also a great day of unity. R. Soloveitchik notes in his commentary that Ha-Levi’s poem starts “Oh Zion! Surely you will ask after the well-being of your captives!” – implying that whatever worldly power holds us we are ultimately captives of Zion. Throughout geography and history Jews are held together under our longing for the Land. While in bad times we lament, and in good times we celebrate – our connection to Zion is the glue that holds all Jews together. Though at times we feel the tie fray, our emotional attachment to the Land of Israel unites Jews across cultures and generations.
We are fortunate to live in a time when the Land is open to us, and we have witnessed great growth and beginning. Rabbi Lerner and I will be leading a joint congregational trip to Israel in late April 2017, and I hope that many will be able to come along. The fast for the Ninth of Av will begin in the evening of August 13 and continue on the morning of August 14. I hope here too, that you will consider sitting in mourning and rising in defiance with us. May the bounds of longing bind, bringing us together to shed tears of grief and joy.
Rabbi Bill Siemers