Before I made Aliyah, I didn't know what Tisha B'Av was. I had never observed it in America, didn't know what the day stood for.
I remember saying, "What do you mean there's another day that Jews fast?" Why hadn't I ever heard of this day if it is so significant to the Jewish people?
So I wanted to know -- why is Tisha B'Av so significant?
Tisha B'Av is one of the two days of the year Jews are supposed to fast for a full 25 hours. Besides recognizing the destruction of both of the Temples, it's also for the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290. Thousands of Jews were murdered in Betar, and the Temple Mount was plowed. More recently, both world wars had a catalyst that occurred to perpetuate the wars on Tisha B'Av. So as we can see, it is a day worth mourning for the Jewish people.
But this day isn't just religious -- it represents the fall of Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Jews from the land where we now reside in Israel today. Religious and secular aside, Tisha B'Av is unique to the Jewish people.
In Israel, secular and religious worlds collide. So how do they observe this day?
In secular culture, Tisha B'Av is really like any other day. People work and continue on with life as usual. Those who don't observe Tisha B'av question - how is this relevant to me? The Temple, after all, fell thousands of years ago. There is an element of respect around the day, but not observance. Something really interesting that I found out once I moved to Israel was that around 1/3 of the Israelis fast on this day, religious or not.
For those who are religious, there is some variation in how the day is observed.
Mourning takes place throughout the month of Av, starting on the day the walls of Jerusalem were penetrated up until Tisha B'Av when the Temple was destroyed. It's supposed to be a sad time.
» Observant Ashkenazim won't shave or listen to music.
» No Jewish marriages occur during these three weeks either!
» In the 9 days leading up to Tisha B'Av, Ashkenazim have even more customs. They won't eat meat, drink wine, or take warm showers.
*Sephardim observe some of these customs only from the Sunday before Tisha B'Av and if Tisha B'Av falls on a Sunday, they don't observe the customs at all!
*Yemenites also abstain from these customs.
It's said that Ethiopians before they started their mass immigration to Israel, didn't even know the Second Temple had been destroyed! They would fast during the daytime for the first 17 days of Av and mourn the First Temple, but because of their isolation from the rest of the world, it was news to them that the Second Temple was also destroyed.
So...that's the history around the day, and once I realized, I wanted to take part. Last year was the year it was explained to me for the first time, and I felt the energy in the country was very low at that time. I went to the beit knesset (synagogue) to hear them read Aicha (Lamentations) and felt the solemnness that was all around. Once you know, and once you feel it, it becomes a part of you.
This year, I have been following the customs around Tisha B'Av (not eating meat, not doing laundry, etc. I plan to fast and hope to observe the rest of the customs. Although it is a very sad day in Israel, it is still a day of unity!