On Sunday we commemorated the fast of Tisha B’Av. Over the years, I have heard many explanations about the meaning of this day – senseless hatred and violence, ignorance and alienation – but I had never heard anything like the explanation I received this week:
This is Michal Avera-Samuel, age 42. I am the executive director of Fidel, the Association for the Education and Social Integration of Ethiopian Jews in Israel.
Until I was nine years old, I lived in a world in which the Temple was standing. Like my parents and all my teachers, I grew up believing that the Second Temple was still standing in Jerusalem. We believed that the city was made of gold – literally. I heard stories of the priests practicing their duties in the Temple, my bedtime stories were about the holiness of Jerusalem, and I prayed to have the merit to return to Jerusalem, the spiritual center of the world.
Belief in Jerusalem was the key component of our education in Ethiopia, for both children and adults. The absolute truth was passed down from generation to generation that we were obliged to be pure in heart and practice so that we would one day by worthy of coming to the Temple. This gave us the strength to survive the treacherous trek through the desert.
We dreamt of Jerusalem as we buried our family and friends who did not survive the journey and as we gave over our possessions to the desert bandits. During Operation Moses, my family and I continued on foot, despite our hunger and thirst, happy in the knowledge that after so many generations we had the merit to stand at the gates of the Holy Temple, G-d’s chosen site.
We reached Jerusalem and, 2,000 years after the event, found out that the Temple had been destroyed. To this day, I am unable to fill the huge emptiness in my life. I remember when my father saw Jews driving their cars in Jerusalem on Shabbat. I could actually hear his broken heart.
The years have passed, I have grown older, and I understand now that I actually gained from the experience. I was privileged to grow up with a Temple that was standing. When I formed my personality, I had the honor of having the goal of being worthy of the Temple. My parents lived to a ripe old age and their aim in life was to be pure enough for Jerusalem.
It was I, as opposed to generations of Jews since the destruction of the Temple, who merited growing up differently. I and those who were brought up like me can honestly feel the pain of the destruction. We fully understand how the loss of the Temple affects our lives.