This week as I marked my first Tisha B’av as part of the community, booms filled the sky. I’m in a semi-rural area in north San Diego county. There shouldn’t be loud sounds, but there are. The house shakes, the windows moan, and the dogs mobilize.
When the pandemic first passed the two-week mark I hunkered down here and recall late one night my first week, right before bed, asking What the hell is that? Well it’s the Marines. Look at a map; I’m holed up something like 3-point-3 miles east of Camp Pendleton where the Marines train and regularly blow things up late at night.
The whole house rattles, a little earthquake each time, and until it subsides you’re not quite sure if it actually is an earthquake. It beckons like a not-so-distant war.
And this time the war prep was different. The booms were the loudest I’d ever heard, and coming at both Tisha B’av and while federal goon squads are deploying to liberal enclaves to attack peaceful protestors—or at worse, graffiti protestors—is tremendously frightening and unsettling. The sounds stepped up as Tisha B’av neared, and during our late Zoom call together by candlelight, the windows rattled.
The images are stark and insane, something out of China, cold war Latin America, or eastern Europe in my youth: unmarked, unidentified, private-contract paramilitary pepper spraying veterans and unarmed citizens alike at point-blank range, shooting canisters and rubber bullets directly at their heads and torsos, ripping them open; and beating, pushing, and shoving people who are literally just standing there, trying to talk to them.
By all reports these men are Trump’s SS: his Homeland Security and ICE, right-wing bullies, who were eager to show up and attack people. It’s unconstitutional and unconscionable.
I at this point have read a wide sample of Jewish history, though I’m just getting started, and knew what happened on Tisha B’av—but also didn’t really know. The night prior, I did some googling. I’ve been watching travel and history videos on Youtube, and hit that up. This was both wise and devastating.
If you’re sensitive this video isn’t for you, but I’m glad I watched it. It fully drove home what happened that summer in 70 CE when Rome surrounded and destroyed Jerusalem. I mean, destroyed it. The temple and the entire city had been destroyed before, but not the entire city and everyone in it, and seeing visuals and hearing what the Romans did at each stage and after is really gutting.
All too often a cursory history of ancient Jerusalem is reduced to “the temple was destroyed, the biggest loss in our history.” Except 600,000 to 1 million Jews were slaughtered in this one atrocity alone. That’s what we mourn.
The temple was a grave loss, yes, but its razing meant the rise of Rabbinical Judaism, which essentially saved it. The infighting and hyper-focus on one single location meant Judaism would have never grown, adapted, or spread much, or could have been altogether wiped out without some kind of modernization. (See my take on Hanukkah and the Maccabean revolt: Judaism nearly ended so many times and each time, came out better for it).
Ironically Christianity was saved that year; the early Christian-Jewish cult fled Jerusalem and the civil war before the full siege, meaning it survived. Sadly, though, Christians took the destruction as sign that G-d had forsaken the Jews, which informed the entirety of Catholic dogma: that of original sin, needing Jesus to enter heaven, and vitally for us, that Judaism had ended, was condemned by G-d, and G-d now favored the followers of Christ.
That last one has been used to kill Jews for centuries. More violence. More holocausts. Little Jerusalems—Yerushalayim—all across Europe and Russia.
My title here, “My Poor Jerusalem,” is from Jesus Christ Superstar, a hippie, rocking take on the world’s most famous Jew (though Moses is a close second, or perhaps still first?).
Jews actually love the show JCS and as I’ve heard anecdotally, The Last Temptation of Christ, too. They are both snapshots of ancient Judea while the temple still stood and before it all went to shit in the region for 1900 years. When the NBC Live JCS version aired I was surprised at my Jewish friends excited for it, and then the TV show Transparent featured it prominently in their Israel season, the characters singing along while on tour in the Holy Land. Superstar is a very Jewish show, to be sure, at least the first half; the second drips with antisemitism, setting to music the revisionist history (it’s fake news!) that the Jews killed Christ. In fact, in that first half, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Christ is seen as divine by his followers. He’s just a man, Mary Magdalene sings.
In the first act Jesus sings his lament for his city with some form of prescience for what is to come 66 years after his death. Jews would be crucified, some 500 per day, on the same hill he was. And hearing this song I always think it’s a commentary, too on the crusades to follow, as well as the onslaught the new state of Israel immediately faced.
The grief he feels hit me, too, Wednesday night during our Tisha B’av lamentations. I’d already been in that state after Youtube, and hearing the soulful melodies and seeing others feeling the sadness of it all—both temples destroyed, every massacre since—I sat on the floor in the dark, candles lit, per tradition, and wept. The walls wobbled, the candles flickered as they did in the temple, and I wondered what it was like to feel your entire world—your community, your house, your parents, your children, your neighbors, and your temple—attacked and destroyed, nowhere to run.
We weep, too, knowing that America’s Nero is tweeting and golfing while his acting general (Attorney General Barr) is sending centurions into our cities before a huge election, attacking moms and grandparents and students and claiming they have no choice, it’s the unarmed people’s fault. That’s how it always starts.
We weep also for the 200,0001 unnecessary deaths in America alone, knowing that it will be many more.
Below: Arch of Titus, Rome. Give us the menorah back and for bonus points, tear down this arch or put it in a museum with a sign saying “spoils of a war that murdered an entire city, children included.”
1This week they say we hit 150k deaths in the pandemic and that it’s severely undercounted.