Paul Greenberg
Yesterday the city fell. The siege had been going on for months. Three weeks ago the enemy breached the walls. A lone voice here and there, an occasional street preacher, tried to warn the people, but to no avail. Prophets may be honored but not in their own country. Life in the teeming city continued as always. People ate and slept, bought and sold, and quarreled as usual, blaming each other as the enemy's grip tightened.

But defeat, destruction, captivity, exile? It couldn't happen here. Yesterday it did. Before the sunset, the city was a ruin, the Temple aflame.

It happened on the ninth of Av, Tisha b'Av according to the Jewish calendar. This year the fast day fell on the Sabbath, but mourning is not permitted to darken the weekly reign of the Sabbath queen, the brightest day of the week. The rituals of Tisha b'Av had to give way till night fell. Only then might the lamentations begin.

So after sundown a handful of us gathered at the small synagogue to sit on the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings -- and remember that within the hollow crown that rounds mortal temples keeps Death his court. Again the ancient words were recited: How doth the city sit solitary, she that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! She weepeth sore in the night. . . .

There were not many of us here, just some of the regulars, joined by an irregular or two like me, and maybe a few Jews who happened to be passing through Little Rock, Ark., this distant corner of the Exile, and remembered what day, or rather night, this was.

It was on such a night in 1913 that a young German graduate student in Berlin named Franz Rosenzweig, already the hope and pride of his mentors, with a promising academic career awaiting him, decided to observe the Jewish day of atonement for the last time. He had determined to complete his assimilation into the dominant, enlightened culture of his day by giving up the ancient faith into which he had been born. But he would say a proper goodbye. So he found an obscure little synagogue that night on a side street of the great city, and then . . . something happened.

He never said just what it was, but by the end of the service, he could not leave the faith. Or his people. Or . . . Something.

Whatever it was, it held him. As he would later write a friend, "I must tell you something that will grieve you, and may at first seem incomprehensible to you. I have reversed my decision. It no longer seems necessary to me, and therefore, being what I am, no longer possible. I will remain a Jew."

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.