This Sunday, Jewish people around the world observe the fast day that marks the ninth of Av on the Jewish calendar. The fast of the Ninth of Av is only one of two days of the year that Jews observe the command to fast for a full 25 hours.

The other full fast day is the Day of Atonement, known in Hebrew as Yom Kippur, when Jewish people ask God and their fellow man to forgive them for sins that they have committed, knowingly and unknowingly. The fast of the Ninth of Av is decidedly different.

While Yom Kippur focuses on the individual in the context of the greater community at large, The Ninth of Av focuses on the Jewish people as a whole, and the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. It was on the Ninth of Av that both Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, in 586 BC and 70 AD, respectively.

It was on the ninth of Av that the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.

It was on the Ninth of Av that the first trains of Jews were dispatched by the Nazis to the Auschwitz death camp in 1942.

Yet it was also on the Ninth of Av that, according to the Biblical account, the spies who were sent by Moses to check out the land of Israel came back with a negative report, saying that the Israelites should go back to Egypt.

The “nay saying” of the spies who did not want to inherit the land chosen by God for the people of Israel was a portent of things to come, because Jewish tradition has it that it was the deterioration of integrity among the Jewish people values that led to the destruction of both Holy Temples, by Babylonia and by Rome, respectively.

The teachings on the Ninth of Av focus on the Book of Lamentations, which, according to the Jewish tradition, was authored by the prophet Jeremiah, who witnessed the Jewish people being taken into exile.

The Book of Lamentations commences with the question as to “How Jerusalem stood alone,” with hints throughout the book of the moral degradation of the Jewish people which caused the inner weakness of the communal Jewish resolve, which caused Israel’s enemies to besiege and conquer and try to destroy the people of Israel.

While the Ninth of Av is widely observed in Israel by the Jewish people who live in Israel, this is a fast day that is not as well known or respected amongst Jews of North America. The reason given is that it occurs in the summer, when people are on vacation. Yet there may be a deeper reason. In Israel the subject of the threat to destroy Israel and the threat to murder the Jewish people as a whole remains part of the national culture and, in many ways is part of the daily news story.

A high percentage of Israelis are descended from people murdered by Hitler in World War II. A high percentage of Israelis are survivors of that catastrophe. And Israel has been fighting a war for its existence for 60 years.

Jews who live outside of Israel rarely speak about such things in their common parlance. Although the Jewish holidays of Purim and Passover relate to the threat to the people of Israel, from Persia and Egypt respectively, these are happy, joyous occasions, where families gather and also enjoy themselves.

There is no joy on the Ninth of Av. The tradition of the Ninth of Av is that people do not even greet each other with a friendly hello. This year, with Iran and its clients Hamas and Hezbollah gnawing at Israel from the north and south of the country, echoing the Iranian call for Israel’s obliteration, the message of the Ninth of Av could not be more relevant.

The Jewish answer to this reality is stated near the end of the Book of Lamentations, where Jewish people are asked to “examine their ways and to return to God’s path,” with a deep understanding that the persecution of the Jews can be somewhat reduced by a choice to live a more ethical life in the path of the Torah through which God has commanded the people of Israel. On this Ninth of Av, Jews in the United States may be somewhat awakened by an international conference that will gather at the Wyndham Hotel near O’Hare Airport, taking place on Saturday and Sunday.

The theme of that conference: to “eliminate the Zionist presence from Palestine” – not for Israel to withdraw from areas taken by the Jewish state in 1948 or 1967.

Indeed, a call for Israel’s destruction will be heralded on the Ninth of Av in Chicago, for anyone who wants to listen.

Most Jewish people whom this reporter meets in North America would rather not hear that message.

This piece ran in the Philadelphia Bulletin on June 8th, 2008 – http://tinyurl.com/64xqu4

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David Bedein is an MSW community organizer and an investigative journalist.   In 1987, Bedein established the Israel Resource News Agency at Beit Agron to accompany foreign journalists in their coverage of Israel, to balance the media lobbies established by the PLO and their allies.   Mr. Bedein has reported for news outlets such as CNN Radio, Makor Rishon, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, BBC and The Jerusalem Post, For four years, Mr. Bedein acted as the Middle East correspondent for The Philadelphia Bulletin, writing 1,062 articles until the newspaper ceased operation in 2010. Bedein has covered breaking Middle East negotiations in Oslo, Ottawa, Shepherdstown, The Wye Plantation, Annapolis, Geneva, Nicosia, Washington, D.C., London, Bonn, and Vienna. Bedein has overseen investigative studies of the Palestinian Authority, the Expulsion Process from Gush Katif and Samaria, The Peres Center for Peace, Peace Now, The International Center for Economic Cooperation of Yossi Beilin, the ISM, Adalah, and the New Israel Fund.   Since 2005, Bedein has also served as Director of the Center for Near East Policy Research.   A focus of the center's investigations is The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In that context, Bedein authored Roadblock to Peace: How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict - UNRWA Policies Reconsidered, which caps Bedein's 28 years of investigations of UNRWA. The Center for Near East Policy Research has been instrumental in reaching elected officials, decision makers and journalists, commissioning studies, reports, news stories and films. In 2009, the center began decided to produce short movies, in addition to monographs, to film every aspect of UNRWA education in a clear and cogent fashion.   The center has so far produced seven short documentary pieces n UNRWA which have received international acclaim and recognition, showing how which UNRWA promotes anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in their education'   In sum, Bedein has pioneered The UNRWA Reform Initiative, a strategy which calls for donor nations to insist on reasonable reforms of UNRWA. Bedein and his team of experts provide timely briefings to members to legislative bodies world wide, bringing the results of his investigations to donor nations, while demanding reforms based on transparency, refugee resettlement and the demand that terrorists be removed from the UNRWA schools and UNRWA payroll.   Bedein's work can be found at: www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com and www.cfnepr.com. A new site,unrwa-monitor.com, will be launched very soon.