חג :היום מילת
Milat Hayom: Hag
Word of the Day: Holiday
This past Tuesday was Tisha B’av. Not exactly a holiday. Actually it’s a taanit (fast day). I have always wanted to be in Israel for a holiday. To experience what it is like for a whole country to celebrate (or mourn) together. This was as close I have ever come. I have observed Tisha B’av in the past, but only at camp since it always falls during the summer months. At camp there is a familiar ritual. We use a Torah scroll to represent each of the major events that we mourn on Tisha Bav (the destruction of the temple, expulsion from Spain, etc.) We walk around slowly in a circle and sing the song “By the waters of Babylon, we laid down and wept, and wept for thee Zion…” Though the subject matter is serious, it still gives me the giggles to think about this ceremony, somewhat devoid of meaning in absence of a strong connection to the events.
On Monday evening, I joined a friend of mine who is studying at Pardes (a progressive yeshiva, where I was a student in a summer program a few years ago). They had a program at the tayelet (promenade) overlooking the city of Jerusalem. Students prepared and chanted Eicha (lamentations) which I had never heard chanted before. We were able to see the lights of the old city where the temple once stood and read the ancient words of mourning at the loss of the temple.
At the same time, we were able to view many balconies which were decorated with—for lack of a better term—Christmas lights in celebration of Ramadan. Half way through the reading we heard the Muslim
call to prayer. From that spot you could hear maybe 10 or 15 different mosques doing the call. Overlapping the call to prayer and the reading of Eicha, there were fireworks going off across East Jerusalem (apparently a celebration for Arab high school students who completed their matriculation exams.) It was an odd mix of celebration and mourning that feels like it could only happen in Jerusalem.
After the reading, a few students expressed their hope for a rebuilt Jerusalem. Some expressed a hope to rebuild the temple, some in a metaphorical sense and some physical. I started to think about what that would mean––tearing down what stands there now, destroying someone else’s holy site, not to mention the potential for a return to sacrifice. I have to say, I do not share that hope. I would however like to see a Jerusalem where people of all faiths can celebrate (or mourn) in peace.
Kendra Gerstein is the Director of Curriculum and B’nai Mitzvah Coordinator at Temple Sholom of Chicago.