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Dear Friend of Israel,

I recently flew to the United States to spend some time at The Fellowship’s Chicago offices. It’s a routine trip, one I’ve made hundreds of times. But recent events made it feel a bit different.

Perhaps that’s because during my trip I was thinking about the victims of the recent attack in Bulgaria – innocent tourists targeted by Islamist terrorists simply because they are Israeli. Indeed, the bus bombing in Bulgaria was just the latest in a string of attacks carried out against Israeli and Jewish targets in France, Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus, and elsewhere. It is sobering to think that, wherever they are, Israelis and Jews are considered targets by Islamic terrorists. This threat was driven home yet again as threats against Israeli athletes competing at the 2012 Olympics came to light – a chilling echo of the 1972 Munich Massacre.

I thought of all these things at sundown this past Saturday, the start of the Jewish fast day Tisha B’Av. Tisha B’Av commemorates many catastrophes that have befallen the Jewish people on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av – the worst of these being the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem in the years 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E., respectively. Other Jewish tragedies have also occurred on that day throughout history, including the defeat of Bar Kochba’s revolt, which put an end to Jewish resistance to the Romans (135 C.E.), the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and the start of the Spanish Inquisition (1492), and the Nazi deportation of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to the Treblinka concentration camps (1942).

Tisha B’Av marks the culmination of a mourning period known as “The Three Weeks.” It’s a day of solemnity, sorrow, and remembrance. Jews refrain from ordinary pleasures and indulgences, including a 25-hour fast from eating and drinking. We avoid frivolity of any sort and follow customs associated with mourning: We do not bathe, wear cosmetics or leather shoes, and we sit on low chairs to minimize comfort. Even Torah study – an activity Jewish tradition considers joyous – is restricted to passages describing the laws of mourning, the destruction of the Temple, and other tragic events.

On this solemn day, Jews remember those who were murdered for being Jewish, whether by Romans, Inquisitors, Cossacks, Nazis, or terrorists. Remembering our trials is painful, but remembering our survival is redemptive. We will never succumb to despair because we remember that – even during our darkest moments – “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid” (Psalm 118:6). And we faithfully cling to His promise to us: “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12).

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Chairman, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews® of Australia