Friday, July 27, 2012

The Stones of Robinson's Arch: Tisha B'Av 5772

One of my favorite places in all of Israel is Robinson’s Arch.  I like going there because I can pray at the Western Wall without all the “noise” of “the Kotel” -- without the mekhitzah separating men from women; without being solicited in the middle of my Tefilla for tzedakah for some yeshiva that does not recognize me as a rabbi or categorizes Conservative Jews as “destroyers of Torah” -- and quite literally without the noise of the Kotel itself.

I also like Robinson’s Arch because of the juxtaposition of the Second Temple period, its destruction and the modern State of Israel and Yerushalayim Habenuyah, rebuilt.  For this reason we celebrated the occasion of my daughter Ziva becoming Bat Mitzvah there and we will likely celebrate my daughter Alana’s becoming Bat Mitzvah there too, next summer.

An artist's rendering of
Robinson's Arch.
Whenever I am at Robinson’s Arch with a group, as I was with one of our six USY Pilgrimage groups this summer, I like to tell them the story of the Western Wall.  This is a synopsis of the story I tell:

As part of their lethal campaign against Judaism, Jews and the Grand Temple, Titus tasked the Roman General Panger with the responsibility of destroying the Western Wall.  For whatever reason, he decided to leave a section of it in tact, the section that we have reclaimed today.  When asked by Titus why, General Panger responded that it should be a sign for all time of the power of Rome and the force brought to bear on Jerusalem for rebellion. 

Robinson's Arch today
Standing at Robinson’s Arch, one can well imagine the magnitude of that force.   Archeologists have uncovered and preserved the catapult cannon balls as well as the two-ton stones that were tossed from above.  One can see the impact they made on the street below, creating huge indentations and potholes.  From just this one small section, of what ultimately is three football fields in length, one understands why Tisha B’av, 2000 years ago, is the Jewish People’s equivalent of 9/11.  Indeed, Tisha B’av was the largest and most devastating anniversary, prior to the 20th Century, which ushered in new and terrible days of remembrance. Tisha b’Av inspired the custom of greeting mourners to Kabbalat Shabbat services Friday evenings with the words: HaMakom yinakhem ethkhem b’tokh sha’ary avalai Tzion Virushalayim – May The Place (God) comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. 

In the 25 hour house of Tisha B’av all Israel are mourners.

My visit to Robinson’s Arch with USY took place two weeks before Tisha b’Av.  I shared with this story with the teens asked them to think about Panger’s goal in preserving the Western Wall. Then I challenged them to contemplate where Ancient Rome is today.  The obvious answer is that the Roman Empire does not exist. Panger wanted an eternal sign of the might of his people, but history proves that might is not found in an army or in weapons of mass destruction.

Might is found in noble ideals, in righteous living, in hope, in God. 

The prophet Zechariah, just prior to the Second Temple period, stated famously: “Not by power and not by might; but by My Spirit alone shall all people live in peace.”  (Zechariah 4:6)

To stand at Robinson’s Arch in the summer of 2012 is to realize the prophetic power of Zechariah’s admonition. While other nations have risen up and fallen, the Jewish people yet live.  Am Yisrael Chai. The Jewish people have done what none other has done before them.  We have reclaimed our ancestral homeland in sovereignty after 2000 years of exile.

And the eternal power of our Torah is renewed every minute by our righteous deeds, actions and words, by the way in which we live our ancient tradition, with its deeply ethical teachings.

To create an indelible teaching moment, I asked the USYers to do what I ask every group to do at that place:  Take a picture of the stones.  Take a picture of the street destroyed by the Roman army 2000 years ago.  Pull out those pictures on Tisha b’Av and remember what the day is about and all the lessons you have learned of it.

And then, because destruction is only part of the historical lesson, I told the USYers:  Take a picture of yourself in front of the stones and remember that you were here on a hot day in the summer of 2012, that we ARE here today in this eternal city.  Remember that the Jewish people continue to thrive because – though rooted to the past -- we always look to the future.

We are here because we recognize that we are not alone, but in partnership with each other, with God and with our commitment to Torah. Living with this mindfulness of unity and shared mission will give us the strength to fulfill the ultimate prophetic vision expression by Zechariah, “that all people shall live in peace.”

Tisha b’Av begins Saturday evening, immediately following the end of Shabbat. Please participate in its commemoration at a Conservative Kehilla near you. To find a kehilla, please visit

May you have a meaningful Tisha b’Av.

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