Monday, August 8, 2011

Not Sure about Tisha Be'av?

I've only ever fasted once for Tisha B'av: in Israel, when I was 16 on a NFTY trip. Probably not the healthiest thing in the world, as we were planting trees that day, but I wanted to experience it, get a sense of what it would mean to fast for a destroyed Israel and Jerusalem while literally standing in a reborn and renewed Israel and Jerusalem.

The second time I experienced Tisha B'av in a meaningful way was again in Israel, my first year of rabbinic school. Hearing the chanting of Eicha done by fellow students (it's still my favorite trope) and going down to the kotel to witness throngs of people, cheek-to-jowl, weeping real tears at midnight for a destroyed city that we were now, in that moment, standing within, was powerful. (Hilariously, we also ran into some EIE high school exchange students who wanted to check it out and had broken curfew as a result.).

Since then, I've moved away from the practice, and have rarely been in communities that observed the day. I'd like to think it was because, as Reform Jews, many decided that it no longer made sense. Sadly, I'm pretty sure it's mostly because it's in the summer, there's no food, and no fun family activity to go with it.

Truth be told, it's not that I'm against the holiday, but rather that I'm ambivalent. I think there's a lot of important teaching to be done at Tisha B'av that directly relates to our lives today. The rabbis teach that Jerusalem fell because of sinat chinam, or senseless hatred, between fellow Jews. Well, one doesn't have to look too far to see sinat chinam. We look to Washington DC and the political chasm that grows ever wider and more treacherous. We look in Israel and see young Israelis rallying for their financial future, hostility upon hostility heaped upon anyone who dares challenge the hegemony of the Orthodox, or for Women's rights, or equal rights for all citizens under the law (and who speaks of peace now, without being called a traitor?), and cynical politicians who have forgotten what it means for Am Yisrael to chai, all this happening while we fear for Israel's continued safety and security, and while we anticipate Gilad Shalit's 25th birthday.

So Menachem Creditor's post Not Sure about Tisha Be'av? Hit home for me (yes, even the parts relevant only to his congregation--having been part of a campaign for a synagogue's financial survival, I know how that goes). There is a lot that's wrong in the world, in the Jewish world, in Israel. We have seen the State of Israel rise miraculously, but have watched Am Yisrael deteriorate. And yet, and yet, as Menachem points out, there is laughter and joy. I'm gearing up for a wedding and a baby naming and a slew of b'nai mitzvah. I'm working on an Israel trip for the congregation. I see Jews in this community gather regularly--regardless of affiliation--to support each other, the community (however you define that word) and Israel, as well as the world. I get to make Shabbat with my family every week, and watch my son's face as Silly Joe (the JCC camp songleader) plays Hinei Mah Tov on the guitar (it does help that he does an Elmo impersonation as he sings it, but hey).

The last words of Eicha say: Chadeish Yameinu Mikedem--renew our days as of old (they're also the last words of the Torah Service). That word renew has a great deal of power and potential (there's a reason Arthur Waskow etc. co-opted the term), and I believe there's a reason we end the chanting of Lamentations with it (it was a later emendation, according to some scholars). Because we can't end with sadness, with mourning. We have to have hope, a nechemta, a word of comfort. We have to believe that there is a future, a better world, a better me and a better you, that we can celebrate together. So we move from Lamentation to comfort, literally in the haftarah for this week (nachamu, nachamu, comfort O comfort ye, says Adonai), and spiritually as we pivot from the this day and move toward Rosh Hashanah, the ultimate renewal.

I don't know what you're doing for Tisha B'av--perhaps nothing. But I hope you'll use it as a time for reflection and introspection, and to begin the process of renewal. Chadeish Yameinu Mikedem...

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