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Dear Friends,

As we find ourselves mid-summer, our community begins looking toward the commemoration of Tisha B’av in a few weeks. Tisha B’av, as you know, is remembered not only as the day the Romans destroyed and desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem, but it is also the day when numerous other historic tragedies are said to have befallen our people.

Because is it a day of communal mourning, Tisha B’av is a day of fasting for many ritually observant Jews. But loss is not the only message of the day.

According to rabbinic tradition, as the Roman siege of Jerusalem caused immense suffering inside the city, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai smuggled himself past the city walls in a coffin. (His students explained to the Roman soldiers that their teacher had died and needed to be buried outside the city walls.) The rabbi fled the city and went to the coastal town of Yavneh. Once there, he set out to recreate Judaism and helped establish the first rabbinic community to help guide our people forward.

In Yavneh, we are told, the rabbis gathered to debate, to mourn, to learn, to love, and, of course, to cry. They acknowledged the crushing losses they had encountered, but they also reaffirmed their commitment to go on living. Yochanan ben Zakkai was bold in his vision for what the Jewish community might become and, along with his community, set out to turn that vision into reality.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai understood that, while the Temple might be lost, Judaism was not. Thanks to his vision, it was in Yavneh that rabbinic Judaism was born. It is why, more than 2,000 years later, our community is still here.

His vision, his boldness and his commitment to the future of our community helped create the sacred tradition we have each inherited. Tisha B’av IS a day to commemorate our losses. Perhaps this year, as we find ourselves facing so many serious challenges, it might also be seen as a day to celebrate our resilience as a community. Time and time again it has been our tenacity, flexibility and commitment to the future that have enabled our community to overcome countless hardships. And it is those same qualities that can, and will, serve us now as we navigate these complex times.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel M. Cohen