Tisha B’Av (the 9th of the month of Av, which started this Monday night) nearly ties with Yom Kippur as the Jewish calendar’s most solemn holiday. The day commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (which led to the exile of the Jewish people from Israel) – two calamities that happened more than 650 years apart, but on the same calendar day. Over the centuries, many other sad historical events have been linked to the Tisha B’Av, adding layers of meaning to the already packed day.

Like Yom Kippur, Jews observing Tisha B’Av fast for 25 hours, from sunset onerev (the night before) Tisha B’Av until nightfall the following day. And like Yom Kippur, they refrain from other everyday activities like bathing, wearing leather shoes, and applying makeup or lotions. The Book of Lamentations (“Eicha” in Hebrew) is read out loud on Tisha B’av and often followed by singing a series of sad liturgical songs. Many observers remove their shoes and sit on the floor in dimly lit rooms for the reading.

But while mourning and fasting are certainly the primary focuses of Tisha B’Av, the holiday also holds within it opportunities for service. Jewish tradition believes that ending suffering and injustice is as important as bowing one’s head in sadness, or even as refraining from eating. Here are two ideas to add service and social action to your holiday custom (or the one you hope to start this year!), and meanwhile bring some comfort and healing to the sorrowful day.

*Note, each of the following opportunities take into account that many people will be fasting for the holiday, and not quite feeling up to hands-on service opportunities.

  • Change.org: Learn more about modern-day slavery and sign one (or more!) of this organization’s petitions to stop it, particularly in the developing world.
  • WITNESS Make a donation to WITNESS – a non-profit founded by musician Peter Gabriel that empowers people around the world to film and use human rights videos to promote justice.

For more information and perspective on Tisha B’Av, check out the great collection of readings andinteractive texts at our friend-partner site, On 1 Foot.