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Tisha B’Av: Rising From the Ashes

Last week, on the seventeenth day of the Hebrew month Tammuz, traditional Jewish communities began a period of partial mourning, refraining from haircuts, washing garments, eating meat, and drinking wine. This period marks the day the Babylonians breached the Temple in Jerusalem for the first time in 586 B.C.E.

Mishna (Taanit 4:6-7) teaches that “five events happened to our ancestors on the seventeenth of Tammuz: The tablets were shattered. The daily offering was cancelled, the walls of the city breached, the Torah was burned, and an idol placed in the Temple.

On the ninth of the Hebrew month Av, also known as Tisha B’Av, our ancestors were instructed not to enter the land for the Temple had been destroyed and the southern Betar fortress, protecting the farming village in the Judean hills, was captured and plowed up.”

On Tisha B’Av traditional Jewish communities participate in a complete fast, following the same rules that apply to Yom Kippur. The study of Torah on this day focuses only on stories of destruction, as joy is not permitted. Several communities read or chant Megillat Eicha, the scroll of Lamentations, in which they lament the destruction of the first Temple. To remove any sense of comfort, participants sit on the hard ground as they listen and join in lamenting.

Within liberal Jewish spaces, the ritual observance of Tisha B’Av is rarely practiced, as the rebuilding of a central Temple in Jerusalem is low on our list of priorities. Rather, we see Tisha B’Av as a symbol of the suffering and loss in Jewish communities throughout history, including the massacres of the Crusades, the Jewish expulsion from Spain, the Holocaust, and current, modern day displays of hate and antisemitism.

In recent years, we have experienced a rise in antisemitic attacks around the world on people and property. We have heard our president call white supremacists “good people.” We have witnessed the separation and deportation of immigrant families trying to escape their homeland to find a better, safer life, just as our ancestors did, time and time again. We have observed the racial injustices that black and indigenous people in our country face on a daily basis, and we have heard many Jews of Color voice their anger and disappointment at the racism they have continually faced in OUR Jewish spaces. There is plenty of tragedy, suffering and loss to go around in this world.

When the ancient Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, our ancestors needed to find new ways to practice their Judaism. It was at this moment in history that the communal prayer we take part in today was developed. Our ancestors recognized that their world was changing, and when they finished mourning the loss, they banded together to find a new way to practice their Judaism.

Today, we are here on Zoom because this pandemic has pushed us to transform the way we gather and practice our Judaism. Throughout time, we have been a resilient people, always finding new ways to connect as the world around us shifts.

In a recent interview about the experience of being Black in faith communities, HUC student Kelly Whitehead commented that “almost all of her racist experiences have taken place in Jewish spaces.” She has been made to feel like an outsider “despite being raised in the faith, being a rabbinical student, and devoting her life to Jewish practice.” Kelly has been an integral voice among the many Jews of color that make up 15-20%* of our American Jewish community.

At the end of Lamentations we read: “

הֲשִׁיבֵ֨נוּ יְהוָ֤ה ׀ אֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ וְֽנָשׁ֔וּבָה חַדֵּ֥שׁ יָמֵ֖ינוּ כְּקֶֽדֶם׃ - Take us back Adonai, and let us return to you, renew our days as of old.” However, it could also be interpreted, “Take us back Adonai, let us return to you, repair our days as a new beginning.”

This year as we commemorate Tisha B’Av, I encourage each of us to look inward. To recognize that destruction, suffering, and loss exists in our own communities, both Jewish and Secular.

We have the power to alleviate some of this pain by learning about the experiences that are not like our own. We have the opportunity to continue to display the resilience of our people, to show the world, and ourselves that we are capable of change and growth. That when we learn of an injustice, we work together to combat it.

This Tisha B’Av I pray הֲשִׁיבֵ֨נוּ יְהוָ֤ה ׀ אֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ וְֽנָשׁ֔וּבָה חַדֵּ֥שׁ יָמֵ֖ינוּ כְּקֶֽדֶם׃ “Take us back Adonai, let us return to you, repair our days and give us the opportunity for a new beginning.”

*https://jewsofcolorinitiative.org/what-we-do/research-field-building/

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