JERUSALEM, Israel - Thousands of Israelis flocked to the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem's Old City on Tuesday evening to mark the beginning of Tisha B'Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av).
Others gathered in synagogues to read the Book of Eicha (Lamentations) and to pray together. Some met in community centers or other locations to talk about the meaning of the holiday.
Tisha B'Av marks the destruction of the First and Second Jewish Temples and the exile of the Jewish people from their biblical homeland. Tradition teaches that other tragedies befell the Jewish people on this day, such as King Ferdinand of Spain issuing the decree expelling Jews from the country.
The Tisha B'Av observance crosses cultural and religious divides, bringing Jews from every background together to fast and pray for the nation.
While the day is traditionally marked by fasting, mourning and praying, Rabbi Chaim Richman of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem said Tisha B'Av is meant to be "a bridge to the future."
"Indeed, Tisha B'Av was not intended to be a day of perpetual mourning, but rather a bridge to the future; the yearning and desire that our mourning inspires is designed to motivate us to rebuild [the Temple]," Rabbi Richman wrote on the institute's website.
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A YNet-Gesher poll showed that nearly three-quarters of Israelis observe Tisha B'Av. A majority of those polled said they either fast or observe the day by "not engaging in recreational activity."
In 1997, the Knesset, Israel's parliament, passed a law requiring places of entertainment, such as movie theatres and sports arenas, to close on erev (the evening of) Tisha B'Av.