Study and Theory/
Tisha B'Av

Berl Katzenelson

Destruction and Detachment

“Davar”, 10th Av 5764 - 1934

I heard that one of the youth unions have arranged to take its members for a summer camp on the same night on which Israel mourns its destruction, its enslavement and the rebellion of its exile. It is inconceivable that someone did this deliberately. It is inconceivable that the pioneering youth counsellors, who educate toward “a life of fulfilment”, that is to say the efforts of freedom from exile and repair of the lesions and the defects in us due to the destruction – it is inconceivable that they did this while being aware of what they were doing. However this ignorance in itself raises doleful thoughts about the standard of culture and the value of the educational achievement of several of the youth counsellors.

What is the value and what is the product of a freedom movement that does not have roots and forgets; which instead of nurturing within its members a sense of origin and knowledge of the sources, it blurs the memory of the point of departure and slashes Benjamin through which the movement absorbs its essence? The movement of resurrection would be unable to do anything at present if the people of Israel did not keep in their heart the stiff neck of the holiness of the memory of the destruction? If it did not dedicate to its memory and its sense and its behaviour – the life of the day of the destruction from all other days? This is the strength of the consolidated and fertilized essential symbol of the history of a people. If Israel did not know how to mourn for generations the destruction on a memorial day, all the severity of the feeling for those who died before him, of those who have just lost their freedom and their country, we would not have had Hesse and Pinsker, Herzl and Nordau, Sirkin and Borochov, A.D. Gordon and Y.J. Brenner, and Yehuda Halevy could not have created “Zion do not ask” and Bialik would not have written “The Scroll of Fire”. This was understood by a man like Aharon Leiberman, the first hero of the Jewish Socialist Movement in the Diaspora, who founded in London the first Jewish Workers Union, in an atmosphere that was totally cosmopolitan with a lack of any dream of existential independent nationalism. He remembered and did not forget the day of national mourning, and in the “register” of that same union it is written in the historical minutes of 2nd Av (5632) 1876, where Leiberman suggests: As the next meeting of the union falls on Tisha B’Av it should be postponed to another day. One of the members was claiming against the postponement in the name of “all humanity” and in the name of revocation of tradition, and Lieberman explained to him that “for as long as the socialist revolution has not occurred, political freedom has great importance for the nation and the language. On Tisha B’Av there is for us, the Jewish socialists, that same value that this day has for members of our race. On this day we lost our freedom and our nation has mourned this for “18 hundred years and more”. This is how he understood, how he felt and this he wanted to educate the great Jewish Socialist Workers Union, in a time when we still believed wholeheartedly that the socialist revolution would soon occur which would with one fail swoop cancel out the nationalist differences, and even the very existence of the special nations, and at a time when there was no vision of the establishment of Israel, and reparations for mourning for “18 hundred years” was not yet visible on the horizon.

And us?

The generation which drank from the cup of exile and slavery many times more than the generations that preceded it; the generation to which was strongly returned to the feeling of destruction and banishment; the generation whereby its entire reason for living was that it served as a bridge from the destruction and the exile to independent and free lives – will this generation be educated towards its mission by forgetting the day of mourning of its people? Indeed, the offices of the Executive Committee of the Workers Union are closed on the historic day of mourning, whereby no cultural nation knew the like of its depth and its pain. However it is possible that there is a great cultural distance between the spiritual world of the heads of the Workers Union and the spiritual world of some of the youth counsellors. And they see, it would seem, the act of the Executive Committee of the Workers Union as an external issue, and they say one thing while meaning another. On the other hand, can a workers movement suffice solely with education regarding Jewish law and ideology only, without it creating for itself and its members an atmosphere replete with emotion and symbolism?

At this time we speak much and in the youth unions in particular about the educational value of symbols. Why therefore would any youth union not know to envelop this day in flags of mourning? To discuss on this day the reasons for the great sadness, inspiration and education?  Does our strength not become weak to be and live our symbols, to deepen within them, to fill them with the spirit of the generation and the needs of the generation?  Are we capable of only using the symbols that are borrowed on credit; symbols that are no more than copies and imitation, and mainly, external consent? Are we capable only of detached lives, a detached culture and detached symbols? For those same youth counsellors whereby in their spiritual world the knowledge and sense of the day of destruction is missing, is it possible perhaps to hear the right in the known wording forgive them for they know not what they do. But as to the very fact that within such a content-abundant and deeply emotional movement it is possible that the education of the youth shall be in the hands of those who have no sense of the treasures of the spirit of the nation, the historical symbols, the cultural values – there is no redemption.

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