Tisha B’Av Teaches That Our Words and Actions Matter

Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig

This Sunday, August 11 is Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av) on the Hebrew calendar, a fast day when we mark the destruction of the Temple, which we are told came about because of a lack of civility. It is a day when we mourn the loss of life and remember its cause … hatred! Our tradition teaches us that words and actions matter.

Today, our nation is suffering because of hate speech, and it is time to bring an end to it in every form and fashion. Whether on the internet from those espousing white extremist ideologies, or in speeches by elected officials feeding the fires of the immigration debate, hate speech must be stopped. Those who hold a public office – or hope to hold one – should bring us together not divide us through hate speech. Doing so should disqualify one from the mantle of leadership. Our elected officials should serve the public, not denigrate it.

We can also no longer ignore the correlation between the rise in hateful speech and the rise in hate crimes – most tragically, mass shootings. Many of the perpetrators of these mass shootings have published manifestos or have been linked to websites that promote hatred of the other … people of color, immigrants, and Jews. Yes, we need common-sense gun laws, and they must be passed immediately.

We offer prayers for those who grieve over the senseless loss of life in El Paso and Dayton and for those who see this as a call to action. We need to stop burying our young and innocent need to start voting out political leaders who do not work to protect us from those violent crimes and the hate speech that fuels them. Our leaders’ words and actions can foment hate, but they can also bring an end to it.

The rhetoric around immigration has had a direct effect on the safety of human beings who, although they may not be citizens of our country, are part of our human family. Our lawmakers have become lawbreakers. They have denied human beings of human rights protected by our legal system and natural rights protected by faith, morality, and the history of humankind.

We must demand that our government stop separating families, caging children, and intimidating immigrants – many of whom are living in our country legally – with the fear of deportation. International human rights organizations must monitor the detention camps. They need to ensure the health, welfare, and safety of those who are trying to come to our country because they do not feel safe.

The day after the government announced the Muslim ban in 2017, a mosque in Texas was burned to the ground. The synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway were caused by perpetrators who echoed the hate speech of rallies and tweets in their manifestos and verbal shouts to justify their murderous actions.

We need to change how we treat other human beings in words and actions. When we verbally denigrate immigrants and tolerate subhuman conditions in their detention and deportations, can we be surprised that they have become the targets of violent acts? The El Paso shooter drove hundreds of miles to reach a community full of immigrants near a Mexican border crossing and is believed to have published an anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic manifesto online minutes before the attack.

We know from our tradition that our world was created by words, and we also know that words can bring about destruction. Let us not repeat our crimes. This Tisha B’Av, let us make our words and actions matter! 

Please join your WHC clergy – led by Rabbi Eliana Fischel and myself – your WHC community, the URJ, HIAS, and countless others in the Jewish community this Sunday, August 11 for “Tisha B’Av: Jews Say #CloseTheCamps,” a vigil to mourn and to protest the policies of our government that are endangering, imprisoning, and deporting refugees and immigrants. Meet us at 1:45 pm on the northeast corner of Lafayette Square (H and 15th Streets NW), by the Brigadier General Kosciuszko statue; the rally will begin in Lafayette Square at 2:00 pm.

We offer prayers for those grieving over the senseless loss of life in El Paso and Dayton. On Sunday, August 11, we will come together in action – not just words and prayers – to bring about change and accountability. I hope you will join us.