What if We Really Wept: Days of Fasting, Days of Action

by Jessica Rosenberg

Since Tisha B’Av always falls in July and August, I didn’t experience it as a child at Quaker summer camp. When, as an adult already politicized about Israel/Palestine, I learned about what Tisha B’Av commemorates and how it functions in the Jewish calendar, I was blown away by the power and the potential of the day.

Mourning the loss of the temple and exile from Jerusalem is certainly complicated for many contemporary diaspora Jews.  For me, Tisha B’Av is an extremely challenging and intriguing holiday that I continue to struggle with. It is said that Tisha B’Av is the saddest day of the Jewish year. In addition to the destruction of the Temples, Tisha B’Av includes the commemoration of other tragedies in Jewish history, including the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290 and Spain in 1492.  Traditionally, Jews mourn the destructions by sitting on low stools or on the bare floor as they chant Eicha (The Book of Lamentations) and kinot (a series of liturgical poems describing the destruction of the Temples).

I think a lot about how fear and trauma exists in Jewish communities, and how it plays into our relationship to Israel/Palestine. More times than I can count I’ve heard that Jews will not be safe in the world without Israel to protect us. My family and teachers and friends point to time after time of Jews being knocked down, kicked out, killed and say: it will happen again, no matter what. I look at that history and say: it can be different, it has to be.

For me Tisha B’Av is about physically, emotionally, spiritually immersing ourselves in the deep loss, fear, and sadness that comes from centuries of Jewish trauma, and doing so publicly, communally.

I didn’t grow up in a community that observed Tisha’ B’Av and very few people in my non-Orthodox, diaspora Jewish communities observe it today. I’m inspired to see some of my peers developing new traditions and approaches to make the tradition relevant for us today.  What if more of us really mourned, really wept, what would change?  Would more of us be able to mourn and move on? How would it change our communal relationships to non-Jews? If we actually mourned in depth in this time of year, would it free us to feel something different the rest of the year?

This year, Tisha B’Av falls on the We Divest National Day of Action. Or, should I say, the We Divest National Day of Action falls on Tisha B’Av. Tisha B’Av has been set for a long while to be on the 9th of Av, every year, and TIAA-CREF scheduled their shareholder meeting for Tuesday July 16th, the corresponding Gregorian calendar day. This is also during Ramadan, which means many JVP members will be fasting and observing a holy day on July 16th.

In our time, across the spectrum of Jewish movements and observances, in addition to Lamentations and the traditional, Temple-related kinot, communities add poems and prayers of mourning commemorating contemporary tragedies (many prayer books have kinot commemorating lives lost in the Nazi Holocaust, some people add kinot for the victims of 9/11).

In my Tisha B’Av observance, I find it powerful to read stories and poems from Palestinians who’ve been dispossessed and expelled from their land.  I feel still quite clumsy about how to weave together the kind of mourning I want to do: to focus attention on Jewish history and trauma for the purpose of experiencing grief towards moving and lessening my fear; and to focus attention on Palestinian history and trauma that my community has to reckon with our part in causing. But this is work we will do together, every year, trying new things, telling each other about it, building new ritual together.

If you want to mark Tisha B’Av this year, you can start with the ritual available on JVP’s website, compiled by Director of  Campaigns, Rabbi Alissa Wise. Then you can talk to your friends, your chapter, your communities: how do we experience Jewish history? What do we do with historical trauma? How does trauma shift and change? What is the role of ritual in moving our trauma?

There is a tradition that the Messiah will be born on Tisha B’Av and thus that out of destruction, redemption is born.  May we commit to our own and each others’ healings, may we be working for all people’s liberation in our time.

Here are some poems and stories by Palestinian authors to weave into your observance, conversations and day:

by Nathalie Handal

A night without a blanket, a blanket
belonging to someone else, someone
else living in our homes.
All I want is the quietness of blame to leave,
the words from dying tongues to fall,
all I want is to see a row of olive trees,
a field of tulips, to forget
the maze of intestines, the dried corners
of a soldier’s mouth, all I want is for
the small black eyed child to stop
wondering when the fever will stop
the noise will stop, all I want is
a loaf of bread, some water
and help for the stranger’s torn arm,
all I want is what we have inherited
from the doves, a perfect line of white,
but a question still haunts me at night:
where are the bodies?

“There Was No Farewell”
by Taha Muhammad Ali

We did not weep
when we were leaving –
for we had neither
time nor tears,
and there was no farewell.
We did not know
at the moment of parting
that it was a parting,
so where would our weeping
have come from?
We did not stay
awake all night
(and did not doze)
the night of our leaving.
That night we had
neither night nor light,
and no moon rose.
That night we lost our star,
our lamp misled us;
we didn’t receive our share
of sleeplessness –
so where
would wakefulness have come from?