Sunday, August 3, 2014

My first real Tisha Be'av...

I grew up in an Orthodox home in Toronto.  And, although I won't reveal my exact age, suffice it to say I've spent more than three decades fasting on the ninth of Av and sitting on the lumpy cushions on the floor of my shul in Toronto while listening to Megillat Eicha.  Nothing much has changed since I've made Aliyah, except I sit on the cold hard marble floor instead, since there are no cushions in my shul.  And while I learned throughout my schooling the significance of this fast day - second in importance to the fast of Yom Kippur - it's sometimes difficult to really feel it in your bones.  We begin the mourning period every summer on the fast day of 17th of Tammuz, which was the day the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans in 69 CE.  Three weeks later, on the 9th of Av, marks not just the date of the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash (the second Holy Temple) but also was the date of the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash as well.  And if that wasn't enough tragedy for a single day, there was a whole slew of other terrible events that just so happened on that day as well (not a coincidence in my opinion...).  

So, in a nutshell, this was not a great day historically for the Jewish people.

During these last few weeks, I've been thinking about how I've spent past Tisha Be'avs and I've come up with some constants.  I've slept in, hoping that when I finally woke up, half the day had passed so I didn't have to think about food for more than a few hours.  I've tried keeping my kids busy so they wouldn't complain about being starving.  I've read books and watched documentaries.  Then, later in the day, I've busied myself with cooking for the conclusion of the fast, which somehow - ironically - manages to keep my hunger at bay.  I'm not sure, though, that I've really ever felt like I was mourning.

I suppose it's difficult to mourn something you've never had.  Despite learning all through school about the Beit Hamikdash and learning about how it was made, how holy a place it was, how sacrifices were brought to the Kohanim (the Priests), it's all just stories and legends, more or less.  No matter how many times I've learned about bringing the first of your crops to the Kohen or about how he took a handful of flour and some oil, and made some sort of cake and then burned it, it was all so removed, so distant.  And the fact that the destruction of both Temples occurred thousands of years before I was born, has distanced me further from the event.  And so while I go through the motions of not eating meat, not swimming or listening to music or going to parties or the movies for nine days and then ending this period with a twenty-five hour fast that begins by sitting on the cold hard floor and listening to the tragic reading of Megillat Eicha, I'm not always truly mournful.

In fact, I remember one particular Tisha Be'av, exactly 14 years ago, when I passed the day in a drunken state of joy and euphoria as I sat in Tel Hashomer Hospital holding my gorgeous, healthy, super-cute baby girl that was born only two days earlier.  Not fasting and basking in the quiet mother-baby bonding, I was too busy mooning over her to think about Tisha Be'av.

This year is different.  These last three weeks can only be described as hellish.  It started with the cruel and unforgivable kidnappping and murder of three young boys and culminated in a war so devastating and frightening that it's left us all shaken.  We've lost WAY too many of our young, brave soldiers and our nation is truly in a state of mourning.  And I've felt it, this all-encompassing sadness that has taken over our people.  I've felt it in every nerve ending of my body.  Now, with a little perspective, I think back to August 70 CE, when our second Holy Temple was destroyed by the Romans, scattering the Jewish people and commencing our exile from the Holy Land.  

And while I got it before, now I really get it.  

The very existence of the Jews of 70 CE were at risk for annihilation.  They lost a country that they were gifted by God, a country that they loved.  They lost their Holy Temple, their place to worship God freely and with a whole heart.  Families were torn apart, and loved ones murdered before their very eyes.  Whoever was left standing was taken away by shackles to other strange countries, forced to give up their religious beliefs.  Their yeshivot and their places of worship were now a thing of the past.

It's now August 4th, 2014.  Centuries lie between us and them, but the threat facing us right now is one and the same.  We are fighting an enemy that wishes to destroy us, to eradicate us from this land that is rightfully ours, a land that we love.  And while we don't have a Beit Hamikdash, their goal is to destroy our religion in the name of theirs.  They have already torn families apart by killing our children, our soldiers and our citizens.  

But there is one fundamental difference between now and then.  We will not let them win.  We are hanging on by tooth and nail to this country of ours and we will not let them take it away from us.

But in the meantime, while I'm fasting in the cool air-conditioned comfort of my home, our soldiers are spending this tragic day in impossibly difficult and dangerous conditions.  They are fighting for us.  For our right to exist in this country that is unequivocally ours.  But we've paid a terrible price for this just war, and will go on paying it until we can live our lives in peace.  We have no other choice in the matter.

And for the first time in a long, long time, this Tisha Be'av, August 4, 2014, I am in mourning.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Fragility and Strength...a paradox?

This summer has been such a strange one. For all of the Jews around the world, but especially for those of us who live here.  This war has been on the front page news for way too long and the anti-semitism that has erupted all over the world as a result has left us all a little shell-shocked.  

Summers are the only time of the year that I'm off of work, with pretty much nothing to do, and while I'm generally a person who loves to be busy every minute of the day (I consider myself naturally caffeinated...), I relish the summer months where I have nothing urgent to do but decide whether to sit on the couch and read a book all day, or play Boggle and Settlers with my kids in the middle of the afternoon, something I'm never able to do.  I normally sleep in, lazing in bed with my Nook, reading some light, fun beach read, before making my way downstairs for a leisurely breakfast. I usually tackle some summer project, like a mosaic or a particularly difficult piece of music but I have yet to do any of those things.  

I haven't been able to sleep in as much as I want - no, need - to and I wake up bleary-eyed and exhausted before I even lift my head off the pillow. Instead of sleeping deeply and dreamily through the night, my thoughts (which are often depressing) are rushing ADD-like through my brain and I'm tossing and turning most of the night.  Instead of dreaming about rainbows, fairies and happy endings, I've got images of tunnels and rockets stuck in my head.  And forget about reading. Those of you who know me well know that I am a serious book addict. I could read between five and six books a month in addition to keeping to my work schedule and still manage to make a balanced dinner most nights.  I never leave the house without my Nook tucked in my purse in the event I can get another chapter under my belt while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store or at the pharmacy.  But since the kidnapping, I can barely bring myself to finish one single book.  I'm too unfocused, too shaky and have trouble turning the news off. I have this visceral need to know what's happening with our soldiers every minute of the day.  

While you might think that sounds slightly obsessive, I assure you, I'm not alone.

While I figured that everyone around me is probably feeling somewhat similar, I didn't realize to what extent.  I ran into a friend at the mall a few days ago while doing errands. She told me that she stopped by my house yesterday but I wasn't home. She said that she couldn't bear the thought of going home where the television beckoned her with only bad news and that she just needed to clear her head, talk with someone about what she was feeling. Which was untethered and shaky and unfocused. Like me. She has good reason since she has a son fighting in Gaza.  Yesterday I ran into another friend, also while doing errands, and the sentiment was the same. She had a bright smile on her face because there, standing next to her, was her son, the same age as my soldier daughter, who had just gotten back from Gaza. While he was heading back there after the weekend, her relief and her gratefulness for this small weekend reprieve was written all over her face. There was still worry mixed in with the relief, worry for her other son and her son-in-law who are still fighting in Gaza. And while standing in the local Makolet just a few minutes ago, I just had a lengthy conversation with yet another friend and all we could talk about is this war and how it's affecting us.  How surreal this summer is and how easily we are moved to tears by what is going on around us.

I feel fragile, on the verge of breaking if I hear of one more soldier dying to keep us safe.  Reading about that young widow who gave birth to her fourth child, a girl, just ten days after her husband died in the battle was almost too much to bear.  But there are moments in this terrible summer when I feel a surge of strength come over me.  It slowly creeps into me when I sit every night in the shul, elbow to elbow with other women who've come out to pray for our soldiers, for our wounded, for our army and for our country.  I felt it pour through me when I saw a young girl standing at the entrance of the supermarket next to six huge boxes that bore a sign on which was written: "for our chayalim, please give what you can".  And another surge of strength when I handed over four tubes of toothpaste and her face broke out into the biggest beaming smile you can imagine.  For toothpaste.  It crept into my veins and made me smile when I saw the picture of the IDF armored vehicle decorated with colorful "stay safe!" cards made by children from all over Israel.  I felt it when I read about the owner of a Shwarma restaurant that literally emptied out his store and packaged up every last salad and Shwarma for a father who was taking food down to his son's unit before Shabbat, and then refused to take any money.  I feel it when our community continuously collects everything from underwear to flashlights to granola bars so the soldiers could keep focusing on doing what they do best and not worry about the small stuff.  I felt it when I saw the picture my husband posted of himself along with four colleagues doing a volunteer ambulance run down south in Be'er Sheva.  And I felt it again when I watched a video of a mother who has lost two sons in past wars bring words of comfort and solace to the mother of a slain lone soldier who came all the way from the US to bury her son.

We are getting through this summer moment to moment; from weakness to strength, and from despair to hopefulness. I keep hoping that the moments of strength will overpower the moments of shaky uncertainty and while that hasn't happened just yet, I'm not just hopeful but certain that they will.  Soon.

And I think that's what we all feel.

That amidst all the shakiness and fragility, there are unbelievably beautiful and powerful moments of strength that feeds our souls and continues to bind us together and makes us the nation we are today.