Monday, July 19, 2010

Tisha b'av

Hey World,

So tonight at sundown marked the beginning of the jewish holiday tisha b'av. Tisha b'av is a holiday of mourning where traditionally one would fast and observe other signs of mourning like not bathing, wearing leather shoes, even sitting on a low chair sometimes. Why are we mourning? Because tisha b'av is the day (or so the rabbis claim) that both the first and second temples were destroyed and that's not all.

I have the special experience this year to observe tisha b'av in Jerusalem and in the old city right where the temple used to stand. I just got back from the (western) wall about 20 minutes ago and it was a unique experience. I wish I was a better writer, but here are some observations/thoughts:

-Tisha b'av was my first time going to the kotel (the wall) since I've been here. I figured it would be passing up a meaningful or at least special opportunity not to go on this day. The kotel is such an interesting place, sometimes I feel very spiritual when I am there and sometimes it just doesn't do it for me. The first time I ever went was amazing, but now it seems a little odd that a material object has such significance. I'm not saying that praying at the wall is idolatry, but sometimes the way certain people act around the wall and the way they kiss it seems a little close to that line.

I do however appreciate the significance it has to the history/narrative (myth?) of the Jewish people. This is where the temple stood. This is where all of Judaism was centered around during both the first and second temple period (I'm not going to go into all the criticism of how this might not be historically true, but within our Jewish narrative which I would say is just as important, the temple was a huge deal. I don't want to get into all the technicalities/philosophy of that). I don't know where I'm going with paragraph

First when I got to the wall I went in the woman's side and made my way up to the front to pray near the wall. I got to the wall around 9pm and it was already rather crowded. People camp there all night reading lamentations (aichah) and praying for the temple to be rebuilt. So I had to push my way up to the front. I davened a little out of my handy dandy pocket sidur, touched the wall and headed back.

One thing I noticed while I was praying was the amount of women crying. There were a lot, some very loudly weeping and praying. It was very powerful to be praying among these people, and to be praying among people who were weeping over the loss of the temple. Losing the temple was definitely a huge tragedy for the Jewish people and left generations struggling with solutions to try and fill the void, but it doesn't make me cry. What I really took away from this was the feeling of being part of a community and part of a whole. I have mentioned my frustrations in this blog about the religious environment in Jerusalem and the lack of tolerance, but in the moment I was praying next to people of many different denominations and it really felt ok. I wasn't mad or uncomfortable, I was just there with fellow lovers of Judaism. Maybe they love Judaism in different ways, but still we were all there mourning over the loss of the temple. Exactly what we were mourning about this loss and exactly what the temple represents to us was different I'm sure, but we were still all there doing our thing.

One thing that did bother me was the contrast between the men's side and the women's side of the wall. I'm not even talking about the fact that the women have the smaller, shittier section, I will even let that slide. I'm talking about the fact that (and this is true all the time not just tisha b'av) there is so much more going on on the men's side. When I was prayingo n the women's side I could hear beautiful singing coming from the men's side and I really wanted to join in and experience that, but I couldn't. There were multiple minyanim on the men's side all singing or chanting aicha. There was none of that on the woman's side, for the most part it was just women sitting or standing individually or in small groups praying/reading quietly.

There was one group of women far back from the kotel that was singing. I sat down near them to join in. It was really beautiful to listen to them sing and try and join in although I didn't know most of the songs. From what I could tell/heard this group was a seminary or something for young women (they seemed h.s age or maybe young college) up north. I was sitting with them for a while and just soaking everything in. Again it was nice to feel like a part of a community of Jews (regardless of denomination). Overall I would say this was a very positive experience (not happy, because that's not what tisha b'av is about, but I was glad I went and experienced what I did).

Observing tisha b'av as a Reform Jew is complicated. It is not customary for reform Jews to fast or really do much for tisha b'av because the movement doesn't really see the destruction of the temple as something that needs to be mourned in such a way. I don't want to make huge generalizations, but for the most part that is the way it is. I fast on tisha b'av. Why? No, it's not because I think I'm better than everyone else or anything like that. I fast because of the tragedy that befell the Jewish people when the temple was destroyed. I fast for lack of unity among the Jewish community that resulted from the destruction. The temple was not simply a place where Jews killed goats, it was the center of their community. The society was run through the temple, there was an economy based around it that was supported by Jews who lived or made pilgrimages there. I fast because I am empathetic for the Jews who experienced this destruction.

I do hope for the temple to be rebuilt and I will pray for it to happen (even though most reform sidurim wont include stuff like that). Why? Because I pray for the rebuilding on more of a metaphorical sense. When the temple I pray for is rebuilt that will mean a unified Jewish people, a people that respects each other and respects other peoples of the world. The temple I pray for represents all Jews loving and feeling connected to their Judaism. I think that would be pretty great, same type of idea with the messiah.

Ok now I am super tired and I still have class tomorrow so I should go to bed. I know this got long, but a lot of emotions were involved.

I would love to hear if anyone had a different or similar experience at the wall on this or any tisha b'av, or maybe ways you like to observe or think about this holiday


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