Five misfortunes befell our ancestors … on the ninth of Av. …On the ninth of Av it was decreed that our fathers should not enter the [Promised] Land, the Temple was destroyed the first and second time, Bethar was captured and the city [Jerusalem] was ploughed up – Mishnah Ta’anit
What is Tisha B’Av (a primer video)
This is the month of Av. A month of mourning and remembrance.
In Av, we mourn for the many ways we humans hurt each other, tear each other down, and diminish the dignity of the other. The Jewish month of Adar, when we celebrate Purim, is dedicated to laughter and rejoicing. The month of Av is the mournful twin of Adar. It is the month dedicated to ashes and sack cloth, mourning and lament.
We humans, Av reminds us, can be profoundly destructive, horrible to each other and the planet. Av is also a time to remember and mourn what was lost throughout our history: families, cities, temples, culture, art, languages. In the heat of the summer, when there is a warm ripeness in the air, we bow our heads and allow our tears to fall.
When I was growing up we always commemorated the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 9th of Av. The use of nuclear weapons on a population of innocents, the massive destruction of life and land, the poison that continued to emanate from the bombs and the fire, the death, the maiming—all of this is reminded us of what we did, Americans, to wreak destruction on another population. Our family added Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the list of who and what we mourn this month of Av. Sometimes we are the victims, but it is also profoundly important to remember that sometimes we are the perpetrators.
We are living through a catastrophe right now. Today more American citizens will die of a raging virus. Every day we watch illness and death around us. Covid-19 is burning through our nation. It is decimating lives, industries, careers, celebrations, long-standing traditions, educational hopes...so much destruction is left in its wake. And we know...this is not the decimation of an earthquake or a volcano. This is the work of human incompetence and greed. The human hand is unsettlingly visible in this current catastrophe.
She weeps, yea, she weeps in the night, and her tears are on her cheek; she has no comforter among all her lovers; all her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies. Lamentations 1:2
It is appropriate, needed even, for us to lament this month of Av. To wail. To bemoan. To let out our grief. How many buried without friends and family? How many died alone? How many died because they were essential workers? How many died because they had no choice but to work to put food on their table? Let us cry out. The injustice. The orphans. The widows and widowers. The loss. It is too great to comprehend. So we sit on the ground and cry our hearts out. This is Av.
In our grief we seek a restoration of what once was. We think back to the days of old, how things used to be and we recount our losses. We look back knowing that the only true movement in life is forward. We know our world will never be the same. Our ancestors knew their world would never be the same after the destruction of the 1st Temple, the 2nd Temple, after the expulsion from Spain and after the Holocaust. Oh, we have known catastrophes. We know how to move through the rubble, pick up the stones and build a new house. We know when to pack it up and leave what we have known for the unknown-in order to survive. We find restoration not in what was, that is gone forever, but in the hope of a better future. After our time of dedicated mourning, we pick ourselves up off the floor, dust off our clothes and put one foot in front of the other. This too is Av.
This is the Jewish season to say goodbye to the past. What our nation was a year ago exists no longer. We are moving into a new reality and who knows? It might be so much better then what we knew. From catastrophe we learn about renewal. From death we learn about life. From suffering we learn about joy. All of this goes hand in hand. This is our holy path as Jews. We have been walking it together in this way for over thousands of years.
We will be commemorating the 9th of Av on Thursday August 30th from 12-1pm with readings and teachings from traditional Tisha B’Av texts and liturgy via Zoom.
Lunch Time, Tish B'Av Commemoration
Meeting ID: 849 1973 9039
And on August 7 at our 7:30pm Friday night Shabbat service we will dedicate a portion of our time together to a special remembrance of all those who we have lost to Covid-19.
Below are resources for engaging in this month of Av. Poems, a Tedtalk and a recording of the traditional lament from Lamentations. Each resources explores the themes of this month in a different manner. My hope is that they will add to your wealth and depth of knowledge of this season. And please remember: Its alright to cry. Allow your tears to flow. It is not just alright but encouraged. Mourn and lament for all that we have lost this year. Weep. So that what you sow in tears...you will come to reap in joy. The new year is right around the corner and we will begin again.
AFTER THE FALL
The mishna says
knocked the Temple down
not the Romans with their siege engines --
or not only them, but
our ancestors too
who slipped into petty backbiting
forgot how to offer their hearts
we're no better
we who secretly know we're right
we who roll our eyes
and patronize, who check email
even on the holiest of days
who forget that
a prayer is more than a tune
more than words on a page
in Oslo parents weep
and we're too busy arguing
motive to comfort them
across the Middle East parents weep
and we're too busy arguing
borders to comfort them
in our nursing homes parents weep
shuddering and alone
and we're too busy --
even now what sanctuaries
what human hearts
are damaged and burned
while we snipe at each other
or insist we're not responsible
or look away?
The Velvatine Rabbi
GOD HAS PITY ON KINDERGARTEN CHILDREN
God has pity on kindergarten children.
He has less pity on school children
And on grownups he has no pity at all,
he leaves them alone,
and sometimes they must crawl on all fours
in the burning sand
to reach the first–aid station
covered with blood.
But perhaps he will watch over true lovers
and have mercy on them and shelter them
like a tree over the old man
sleeping on a public bench.
Perhaps we too will give them
the last rare coins of charity
that Mother handed down to us
so that their happiness may protect us
now and on other days.
Two poems by Toge Sankichi: Hibakusha (A-bomb survivor)
How could I ever forget that flash of light!
In a moment thirty thousand people ceased to be
The cries of fifty thousand killed
Through yellow smoke whirling into light
Buildings split, bridges collapsed
Crowded trams burnt as they rolled about
Hiroshima, all full of boundless heaps of embers
Soon after, skin dangling like rags
With hands on breasts
Treading upon the spilt brains
Wearing shreds of burnt cloth round their loins
There came numberless lines of the naked
Bodies on the parade ground, scattered like
jumbled stone images
Crowds in piles by the river banks
loaded upon rafts fastened to shore
Turned by and by into corpses
under the scorching sun
in the midst of flame
tossing against the evening sky
Round about the street where mother and
brother were trapped alive under the fallen house
The fire-flood shifted on
On beds of filth along the Armory floor
Heaps, God knew who they were....
Heaps of schoolgirls lying in refuse
with half their skin peeled off, bald
The sun shone, and nothing moved
but the buzzing flies in the metal basins
Reeking with stagnant odor
How can I forget that stillness
Prevailing over the city of three hundred thousand?
Amidst that calm
How can I forget the entreaties
Of the departed wife and child
Through their orbs of eyes
Cutting through our minds and souls?
At the First-Aid Station
Who weep although you have no ducts for tears
Who cry although you have no lips for words
Who wish to clasp
Although you have no skin to touch
Limbs twitching, oozing blood and foul secretions
Eyes all puffed-up slits of white
Tatters of underwear
Your only clothing now
Yet with no thought of shame
Ah! How fresh and lovely you all were
A flash of time ago
When you were school girls, a flash ago
Who could believe it now?
Out from the murky, quivering flames
Of burning, festering Hiroshima
You step, unrecognizable
even to yourselves
You leap and crawl, one by one
Onto this grassy plot
Wisps of hair on bronze bald heads
Into the dust of agony Why have you had to suffer this?
Why this, the cruelest of inflictions?
Was there some purpose?
You look so monstrous, but could not know
How far removed you are now from mankind
Perhaps you think
Of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters
Could even they know you now?