Reform, Progressive Jews Try to Make Tisha B'av More Relevant to Secular Public

Date marking destruction of First, Second temples normally observed by ultra-Orthodox Jews primarily.

Tisha B'Av, a Hebrew calendar date during which primarily religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews fast and mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples, is not largely observed by Israel's secular public.

Monday night, Tisha B'Av eve, Jerusalem will see a unique attempt by Reform and Progressive Jews to put a human face on this tragedy, aimed at making it more accessible to secular Jews.

To involve a broader public in the mourning, the Khan Theater in Jerusalem will hold an alternative commemoration ceremony, intended specifically for the secular public.

The ceremony's organizer, Dov Kalmanovitz, has much experience in introducing the grief of secular Israel to the ultra-Orthodox community: For the past few years, he has been setting up Memorial Day ceremonies for ultra-Orthodox people who wish to commemorate Israel's fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks. Now, he aims to perform the service in reverse.

Kalmanovitz told Haaretz he would have the secular public identify with the religious grief of Tisha B'Av by highlighting the personal loss visited on the Jewish population of Jerusalem.

To achieve that, Kalmanovitz decided to use the words of the Jewish historian Josephus, who witnessed and survived the bloody ordeal of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. by the Romans. In his writings, Josephus describes not only the Second Temple's destruction, but also the Roman massacre of the Jewish population in the Holy City. "We deal with so many symbols that we tend to forget that these events happened to real people," Kalmanovitz says.

The audience can expect to hear such horrific descriptions as "...They [The Romans] went in numbers into the ... city with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook ... and set fire to the houses whither the Jews fled ... and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men's blood." (Jewish Wars, Book VI, chapter 8, paragraph 5)

"The individual victims are unknown to us," Kalmanovitz says. "The stones are all that's left in the public's mind. Texts such as this help us commemorate and remember, even though we don't know the victims' faces or names. Tisha B'Av is for them. It's not meant for grieving only over the stones, but also remembering the people."

Attending the ceremony at the Khan will be philosophy professor Asa Kasher, whose field is philosophy, to discuss the global meaning of grief.

Two Progressive Judaism institutions - the Bina Center for Jewish Identity and Culture in Ramat Efal and Alma Hebrew College in Tel Aviv - will commemorate Tisha B'Av tonight in a joint ceremony. Alon Schuster, the head of the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, will speak of the feeling of homelessness in the region following rocket attacks from Gaza. Dr. Galia Tzabar will talk about refugees from Darfur and their sense of homelessness.