Tisha b’Av in Jerusalem By Dasee Berkowitz
Dasee Berkowitz is a writer living in Jerusalem with her husband and kids. She is a frequent contributor to JTA, Times of Israel, Forward.com and Kveller.com.
When I was living in Sag Harbor, Tisha b’Av seemed like the most incongruous Jewish holiday to the backdrop of the “summer season” in the Hamptons. Just as the height of summer rolled around, so too did Tisha B’Av, the day that marks the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, and a 25 hour period of fasting, sitting on low chairs and reading from the book of Lamentations (Eicha). The juxtaposition was always so stark. Take off your leather sandals everybody, move off the comfortable couches, and sit on the floor. Dim the lights, open the book of Lamentations and sink into the heaviness of remembering the destruction that befell your people when their center of Jewish life was torn asunder.
Last year, after we made Aliyah, the holiday didn’t seem that incongruous to the feeling in Israel at the time. At the height of Operation Protective Edge, Israel was embroiled in a “battle” (as my son then called it) with Gaza. Tisha b’Av was exactly the day we all needed to share and contain our feelings of fear, pain and loss. Readings of the ancient book of Lamentations was the anchoring text, and between chapters we sang modern Israeli songs and traditional Jewish ones to give expression to the heaviness that was palpable all around us.
And now it’s a year later. And while the feelings are not as raw as last year, my experience gave me pause. There’s a reason why these dates are on the calendar. Even when we “don’t feel like it”, there is a power to focusing on loss. It’s there. It happened. And it is happening today. Break, fracture, disconnection, alienation, inter-communal fighting and loss are a part of our world and everyday lives.
Tisha b’Av is a wake up call. It wakes us up from the healthy dose of denial we live with everyday (without which we would be gripped by anxiety of what might happen and probably never let our kids get on the bus in the morning.) But on this day we don’t. We see the pain of the world and we ache.
But the ache of Tisha b’Av is not totally dark. There’s a rhythm to the day. While the night and the morning of Tisha b’Av are the most intensive, we move toward light at midday. We no longer sit on low chairs, we can greet each other again. And at mincha time, there’s a tradition to wash the floors of your home, to get ready for the Messiah. Tradition has it that the Messiah was born on Tisha b’Av.
It’s a radical statement. Even in our darkest hour, there’s the possibility for redemption. Not to return to what was, but to redeem it, to bring us to a higher level. Only once we live through our ache on Tisha b’Av can we see the ways to heal ourselves, our relationships and the world around us.
On this Tisha b’Av I’m thinking about:
- Reading Eicha, and then also researching projects of innovation and renaissance in Israel’s capital (like the newly formed movement called “Yerushalmim”.)
- Baseless Love – if Jerusalem was destroyed as commentators suggest because of baseless hatred, what would it mean to spend the day focused on baseless love, or to use the advice that someone gave me and my husband before we got married, “be kinder than you have to be to one another”. Be kinder, love more, have more patience for everyone this Tisha b’Av.
- Perspective – every fast day makes me think about food. And the food that I usually have in plenty, which other people don’t. For the money I would have spent on food for my family this Tisha b’Av, I want to contribute to someone who doesn’t have enough food to eat.
Mourning can be a deeply personal experience, but on Tisha b’Av we are challenged to mourn as a collective. The small steps we can take to move through the mourning and feelings of alienation toward a place of connection and even redemption can be transformative.