In the summer of 1999 I sat in the ruins of a synagogue in the old city in Jerusalem. I sat on the ground. I listened to the Hebrew readings. I looked out through the open window and I could see people praying in front of the wall. Seeing them sitting, reading, mourning. I felt at that moment very connected to the Jewish people. At that moment I was glad to be surrounded by Jews. It was Tisha B’Av.
Tisha B’Av is not a holiday I frequently observe. I think I have fasted maybe twice. I remember it was an ‘optional’ holiday at Jewish summer camp. Some kids prayed and fasted and the rest of us went ahead to the dinning hall and about our usual activities. Tisha B’Av is a day of remembrance, remembering horrors, remembering tragedies. Supposedly both Temples were destroyed today. Supposedly today is the day the Jewish were expelled from Spain.
Last night I had a very different Tisha B’av experience. I knew the holiday was upon us only when I noticed that the cafe was closed and realized it had to be a fast day. But it’s still an ‘optional’ holiday, not one that effects programming. And certainly not when we are in the middle of our festival. We had a one-night only performance of two pieces by a Lebanese-American performance artist. The second piece was a work still in progress, a detailing of her and husband’s experience visiting Lebanon last summer. A wonderful visit with friends and family that quickly turned. She talked about her anger, her heartbreak and her frustration with America’s lack of a response. Her story was powerfully told and I felt my heartbreak anew.
So this Tisha B’Av I don’t morn the destruction of Jews past. This Tisha B’Av I mourn the destruction that Jews are causing in the present. As I have said before, being Jewish is very important to me – I will never be a self hating Jew. And I do support Israel. I support the Israeli left who are trying to change their country. Israel is a supposed democracy (that’s what we hear spouted by countless politicians) but what kind of democracy ignores half (or more) of it’s people? What kind of country supports (or at least ignores) racist actions? (and no, I don’t think Zionism as a whole is racist but certainly many of it’s practitioners are and certainly many of its policies are).
Why should we mourn and feel sorry for ourselves when our actions are leading to destructions of society, of cultures, of land? Why can’t we, the people who have frequently supported the underdog, frequently have been the underdog, look at what has happened to the Palestinians, to the Lebanese? Why can’t we work to heal? Why can’t we work for peace.
Sure there is still stuff to worry about but more importantly let’s worry about the destruction we create. And remember that the actions are not only hurting others but we are hurting ourselves.
I do take solace that I am not the only one asking these questions today. On Jew School blogger Mobius asks many of the same. And so I will close with a quote that he uses:
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? –Isaiah 58:6