Friday, July 31, 2009

Lessons from Nights of Lamentation

My first chag, first Jewish holiday, as an Israeli was Tisha b'Av, a sobering reminder that the Jewish state I have committed myself to is only as resilient as the values embraced by its inhabitants. Of course, some may point out that as important as the fast of the 9th of Av may be, it should not be considered a chag. I disagree. If only for the added significance the day has in our day and age, when the most disturbing challenges to the success of the Jewish state come squarely from within.

Three friends that will be joining me on kibbutz came by my parent's home in Jerusalem for the traditional pre-fast meal. It was hard to focus my thoughts on the seriousness of the approaching fast as we joshed about our shared anxieties about the army. With dusk approaching we washed up and caught a ride to the tayelet in Talpiot, the outlook that is many visitors first stop in Jerusalem and that offers unparalleled views of the capital city.

Hundreds of Jerusalem residents gather at the tayelet the night of Tisha b'Av to recite the book of Eicha, the tear stained text from the Bible that recalls the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem. As I sat on the stone promenade, with the entire city of Jerusalem laid out before my eyes, my thoughts turned to where I had spent the fast days in years past. The last two years I was in China, the first year nestled in a dorm in Suzhou as two other Jewish expats listened to me read selections from Eicha and then opened up about their own complex relationships with Jewish belief. Last summer I was on my own, debating whether to spend the night of the fast by the Great Wall and ultimately finding a chunk of the old Beijing wall on which to read some Eicha.

In past years I have spent Tisha b'Av at Bnei Akiva summer camps and in Israel, most memorably in 2002 when the teen program I was touring Israel with, Nesiya, commemorated the fast in one of a kind fashion. Yet nothing in the past compares to this year. Mourning for the destruction of past Jewish commonwealths is ever more complex once one has tied oneself to the modern Jewish state. The pain in Eicha is both more and less. And the lessons of the day, oh the lessons, are now longer only writing on the wall.

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