The ninth day of Av, Tish’ah Be’av, is considered the saddest day of the Jewish year. It is said that on that day the spies returned from Canaan with their discouraging reports about a land of giants that the Jews could not conquer, showing their lack of faith in God. It was also on said that day that both the first and second Temples were destroyed, sending the Jews into exile. On that day in 1290, Jews were ordered to leave England, and on that day in 1492, Jews were thrown out of Spain. In more recent times, World War I broke out on that same day, starting a chain of pogroms and persecutions that would eventually lead to the Holocaust. Long ago the rabbis declared Tish’ah Be’av a fast day to remember the suffering of the Jewish people and the special role God gave to the Jews. But since the establishment of Israel as the Jewish homeland, many Jews have forgotten all about Tish’ah Be’av and don’t bother to commemorate the day with fasting and prayers.
From the moment he got out of bed, what Simon thought should be a great day started to go bad. Instead of leaving on the family camping vacation right away, they weren’t going until tomorrow. Simon was disappointed. It was the ninth day of Av, but in America, where Simon and his family lived, it was just another summer day.
However, Simon’s dad went right off to synagogue, without even eating breakfast. Today was Tish’ah Be’av, his dad said. It was a fast day so his dad wasn’t eating until sundown. His dad, it seemed, was the only person who had even heard of this holiday. Simon and his younger sister, Molly, and his mom would stay home.
After breakfast, Simon was playing with his trucks when Molly ran in and messed everything up. He got so mad he pushed her out of the room and hit her. Molly ran off screaming to her mom. He tried to explain what Molly did, but his mom wouldn’t listen. Instead, she gave him a time out. It was unfair, and he was mad.
When his time out finally ended, he went out to ride his new bike. He had just gotten the bike and it had gears, just like his dad’s bike. But, when Simon started to ride, the gears wouldn’t work. The pedals were jammed or something. “I can’t help you. Your dad will fix it after Tish’ah Be’av,” said his mom. That meant having to wait all day with no riding. This really was a bad day. How much worse can it get, he thought.
The rest of morning went along without any more problems. As they finished lunch, Simon jumped up to get the cookies for dessert. “Not today,” said his mom.
“Why not? You always let us have a cookie after lunch. I ate my whole sandwich,” he pointed out.
“Today is Tish’ah Be’av. It is a fast day to remind us of the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem,” explained his mom. She went on to describe all the other terrible things that happened to the Jews on this day. “As children, I don’t expect you and Molly to fast and we didn’t go to synagogue as a family, but we will give up cookies and dessert to remind us of the terrible things that we as Jews have experienced. It gives us a moment to remember all those who have suffered.”
Simon thought he already suffered a lot today. He wished his dad would get home and this day would be over. “Let’s go to the big playground,” called his mom. Simon and Molly dashed to the car. This was the first good thing that happened all day.
The weather was perfect for the playground. The sky was clear. A gentle breeze kept it from getting too hot. At the playground, kids were crawling all over the swings and bars. Maybe the day wouldn’t turn out so bad after all, Simon thought.
He and Molly joined the kids on the bars. Quickly Simon found some other boys his age and started a game of tag. In a moment, the boys were racing all around the playground. Simon was running fast to avoid getting tagged. He tried a sudden turn, but his feet slipped out from under him and he went crashing down. He instinctively put out his hands and arms to break his fall. The boy chasing him crashed on top of him.
Before he even felt any pain, Simon noticed the blood gushing from his hand. The other boy noticed it to: “Ugh. Look at your hand! It’s all blood!” he shouted. Simon saw the bright red blood and got scared and then he began to feel the pain. “Mommy!” he screamed, and started crying.
Simon’s mom rushed him over to the water fountain to wash off the blood and dirt. The cold water stung. Simon had a gash two inches long across his palm. “There is gravel wedged into this cut. It looks pretty deep. I’m taking you to the hospital,” she said calmly, as she wrapped his hand in her handkerchief. Simon continued to cry as his mom hustled him and Molly into the car.
They drove right up to the hospital’s emergency room. The nurses saw him holding his hand wrapped in the bloody handkerchief and took him and his mom straight into a little room where he lay down on a table. Molly came along too. The nurses went right to work cleaning his cut and talking quietly to him. His mom sat by his head and soothed him. His hand hurt and he was scared but he was also curious. He had never been in a hospital before and all the stuff in the room was interesting. He stopped crying and concentrated on what the nurses were doing. The bleeding had stopped.
Another woman came in who introduced herself as the doctor. She looked at his hand and asked him what happened. She then turned to the nurse: “He’s got a lot of gravel in there. Let’s get an x-ray and see what else is in there.”
After the x-ray, Simon was brought back to another room. He lay down on a table. His mom and sister were by his side. The doctor came in holding the x-rays in her hand. “It’s not as bad as it could have been. Now I’m going to make it so your hand doesn’t feel anything. Then I’m going to clean out the gravel in your cut and sew it up. You’ll be as good as new and you won’t feel a thing,” she said cheerily.
“Can I still go camping tomorrow?” Simon asked the doctor. “We’re going on vacation.”
“I don’t see why not. We’ll bandage this up real well. Of course, you won’t be able to swing a camping ax or even a baseball bat for a few days,” the doctor replied.
They didn’t finish at the hospital and get home until late in the afternoon. Dad was already home. “How was your day?” he greeted them. Then he saw Simon’s bandaged hand. “What happened to you?”
“Daddy, I had such a terrible day,” Simon began, as his father picked him up. He then recounted his whole day. “I’m so sad,” he added.
“I’m sorry to hear that. I can fix your bicycle, and we’ll still go away camping tomorrow. You’ll be lucky if this is the worst day you ever have,” said his father, with a chuckle. Then he sat down and picked up a book from the table. “You may be sad now, but you’ll be happy again soon, I bet. Do you know what day today is?
“Tish something,” Simon guessed.
“Tish’ah Be’av,” his father continued, “the worst day for the Jewish people, much much worse than your day. But I remember reading something last night in synagogue that might have been written just for you.” He thumbed through the book. “Here it is. We read the Book of Lamentations. It said: `The Lord has broken my teeth on gravel, has ground me into the dust… I forgot what happiness was. But this I remember: The kindness of the Lord has not ended. His mercies are not spent. They are renewed every morning.’” [Lamentations 3:16-3:23]
“Hey that sounds sort of like what happened to me,” Simon agreed, recognizing the gravel. In his daddy’s arms, Simon felt like everything was right again.
“I’m just glad it wasn’t your teeth,” added mom. And everybody laughed.