This Sunday, Jews around the world will observe Tisha b’Av, the ancient day of mourning over the destruction of the two Temples. While Ethiopian Jews also observed the month of Av as a time of mourning, due to their centuries-long isolation from the rest of world Jewry they had never learned that the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, was no longer standing. Michal Avera Samuel, who came to Israel from Ethiopia at the age of nine, recounts making this discovery:
Like my parents and teachers, [as a child] I believed that the Second Temple stood in its place in Jerusalem and was literally made of pure gold. I grew up hearing about the kohanim, or priests. I fell asleep listening to stories about the halo hovering over Jerusalem, and about Jews who merited to dwell in the Holy City cloaked in white garments—people blessed with pure hearts, clean thoughts, and devoid of sin. . . .
Deep within Ethiopia, my family and I, along with our neighbors from the Beta Israel community, hoped to merit to return to Jerusalem one day. We prayed and performed customs that expressed our yearning for Zion. When we slaughtered livestock, we would turn the animals’ heads toward Jerusalem, and whenever we noticed a flock of storks above our fields, we would chant a song in which we requested that the birds deliver our prayers [for] return to our homeland.
We knew that the First Temple had been destroyed. During the first seventeen days of the month of Av, we would fast during the daytime. We chanted special lamentations in Amharic and practiced other customs of mourning prevalent among many Jewish communities. We even continued ritual sacrifices as a distant memory of the Temple times. . . .
The ideal of Jerusalem was the force that provided us with the stamina to persevere during the arduous trek through the desert. . . . Then we arrived and discovered that the Temple had been destroyed. Jerusalem did not appear as the place I had so badly yearned to reach. Learning about the destruction of the Temple only as I reached the gates of the Old City was an earth-shattering disappointment. . . .