Today is the saddest Tisha B’av of my life. I have never liked this day. It is a 24 hour fast in the heat of the summer that is preceded by days of limiting joy, laundering, swimming, and bathing.
I have managed to negotiate the events of the 8 days preceding it by observing the limitations on not eating meat and drinking wine except on Shabbat, but not showering after a 90 degree day is over the top. I had an uncle who was a great Talmudic scholar and we overlapped at my cottage one year during these 9 days. One day I saw him taking a shower and could not refrain from asking him how he could do that. He referred to a Talmudic passage when a similar question came up for a great sage who simply said he was a delicate person. The term was “Istinis”. Fortunately, I had learned that passage and understood the reference. I decided from that day forth that I too was an istinis.
I hated this day because the fast often came on a Sunday and no one in my family observed it. Sundays at the cottage had a routine. Fishing in the morning, swimming in the afternoon, barbequing steaks in the evening before returning to the city.
Imagine a hot day with no air conditioning, and you are fasting. You are sweaty, you haven’t brushed your teeth youfeel weak grungy and hungry. You are all alone in your space when the smell of grilled steaks begins to enter your nostrils. I don’t know if the impulse for self-pity was greater than the first impulse which was to take the two-pronged Barbecue stick and attack every family member in sight.
I don’t like Tisha B’av and I haven’t even explained why it is such a sad day. On the 9th of Av ( Tisha B’Av in English) not one but both temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. In 586 BCE by the Babylonians, and in 70 ACE by the Romans. If that was not enough the Spanish expulsion of Jews in Spain in 1492 took place on this day. There are other things that happened on this day, but you get the picture.
The second Temple in our tradition was destroyed because of something called Sinat Hinam, usually translated as pointless hatred. I prefer to call it stupid hatred, when one side causes unbelievable harm to the other or to all because they would rather bring the house down than figure out a way to stop hating each other. Many Jews wanted to sue for peace with the Romans and end the siege of Jerusalem. They would lose their independence but live their life in their homeland. The Zealots refused and fought their fellow Jews and the Romans. In the end there was no more homeland and those that were not massacred lost their city, their country, and their temple.
So why is this the saddest Tisha B’Av in my life? Because I can not escape the feeling that it is happening all over again.
On Monday ignoring great protests and pleas for postponing the bill to limit judicial overview of the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, or to at least wait until a compromise could be reached that everyone would hate but all could live with, the “Zealots” in charge refused to stop hating and moved forward.
The issues are complicated to be sure and there is a certain amount of legitimacy to the grievances of the government, but destroying the country is not good for anyone.
Israel is 2 years older than me. I have loved her ever since I was about 9 and saw the movie, Exodus. She received much of my father’s family when they escaped from Communist China. I speak her language. I have visited and lived there for periods of time. I knew her in poverty and scarcity, and I have enjoyed her in her start up nation wealth and comfort.
I volunteered for her in a civil defense patrol when rockets and bombs were going off regularly in Jerusalem. I worried over her in May and in early June 1967, and lived there during the mourning that was a year after the Yom Kippur war. I finished shiva for my dad and immediately hopped on a plane to join congregants who were on a tour that was welcomed on their arrival by the Lebanon war.
I love her, if not always her government, but the same is true of how I feel about the United States. I did not stop loving America for the 4 years that I hated the Trump administration. The tragedy right now is that behind the issues of judicial overreach, is the real battle based on identifying fellow citizens as “others” and some of those citizens you hate is just because they are “others”.
Sefardim have a legitimate chip on their shoulders about how the Ashkenazi elite has historically treated them. Some religious and secular Israelis see life differently and want their vision to be the way Israel is run. Demographics are rapidly changing and not the way the historically powerful desire. Their power in the future is dwindling. Like Democrats and MAGA republicans they do not see their country the same and see the other as trying to take away “their country”. Watch Israel to see what America will look like following, God forbid, a Trump victory in 2024.
The core of the problem is stupid hate, that prevents 2 segments of the same society from sitting down and negotiating a deal. How can you negotiate with someone who you do not recognize as part of the same family?
Last shabbat I was visiting with my son in the Catskills, and he lives about a 15-minute walk from a Satmar Hasidic colony that has a synagogue on premises. The families come from Brooklyn, and you can see from the cars and the neighborhood they are not suffering from economic deprivation. He has told me about the group and their services and the kiddushes that they serve or the lunches that he is invited to where he enjoys the lively singing, in true Hasidic fashion. He asked me if I wanted to go.
After 2 months in Whistler with no synagogue I really did want to go and of course revisit my Bubie’s old favorite foods, but mostly I wanted to meet these people as people.
I too am guilty of tribalizing others by dress or opinion or the given stereotype. I see 19th century “black hats” with all their separate, “We are the true Jews and you aren’t even Jews” and feel slighted and distanced and yes dislike if not hate. I wanted to have a chance to see them from the inside and experience them as people. What would I find out? Would they even talk to me?
I had not brought dress pants with me. The only thing that was not shorts was a pair of jeans. I did not want to insult these people in a sign of disrespect, so I thought of not going. My son called 2 of his acquaintances there and asked if it would be acceptable. Their answer was my first tip that this was going to be a good experience. “Sure, we don’t care what he is wearing just come”.
It was hot and I was wearing a long sleeve shirt, so I was sweaty after the 20 minute walk there. We entered and there was no one else who looked like us. Many had come in wearing a fur streimel that reminded me of a Beefeater’s dress hat. Many who wore them had a red line on top of their foreheads, similar to what hockey players have from their tight-fitting masks.
A few came over to say hello and welcome us. The service would not formally start for about another 30 minutes at 10.30 and nothing seemed organized. I know my way around a prayer book, but I could not figure out where we were for much of the service. After the morning service and at the beginning of the Torah service most people disappeared for a few minutes to make kiddush and have some cake. A man came by to personally invite me but I did not go. The table to my right brought the cake and the drinks into the room and seemed to pay more attention to that then the Torah reading. In that prioritization they could have been members of my congregation. By 12 the service was over. I knew that because everyone stopped praying and there was a mass rearrangement of tables so that one very long table was formed, and an onslaught of food appeared. Everything that clogged your arteries appeared in copious amounts with top shelf single malts, vodka and tequilla being poured constantly. I arrived a little late to the table and someone immediately got out of his seat, insisted on giving me his seat as everyone else in the row reshuffled to allow another seat to be added. The conversations were warm and friendly. One man discussed with my son his recent trip to Italy and Switzerland with his wife. I mentioned that I had just come back from Croatia, not even sure if he knew where it was, and he immediately told me how much he had enjoyed his trip there.
The more we sat and met people the more we realized they were just people, who loved life, their families and their God. I talked Israeli politics with one man who was well informed, I talked with another older gentleman about holocaust survivors and his take on life. I realized they were different than me for sure, especially since we did not see a female the whole time but they were not the “other”. They were Jews just like me who invited in guests with full acceptance and warmth, and boy could they sing. I saw true shabbat joy.
Tisha B’av reminds us of how stupid hate sent us into exile for 2000 years. Jews can and will disagree, but they can talk and learn and compromise. It was all laid out by Moses in the Torah. (Leviticus 19:17,18). “You shall not hate your kinfolk in your heart. Reprove your kinsman but incur no guilt because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the lord”.
I hope in the next few months Israelis will make that their motto.
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