Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tisha B'Av

Tisha B'Av is a toughie. 

Sure, speakers try. They sometimes succeed. When Rabbi J.J. Schacter mournfully chants the kinnos, and describes the horrors at the hands of the Romans, the Crusaders, the Nazis, I am, at times, able to shudder in remembered agony; perhaps a tear or two will ooze from my eye. 
But as a grandchild of survivors, a single solitary day of sadness is an oxymoron. That sort of pain follows me around on a daily basis, a constant shadow. 

A photo sits on the piano—Babi's family pre-Holocaust, posing carefully for the photographer. Her father, her mother, a younger brother, and a baby sister, tinted in sepia hues, would soon be ash; Babi survived, as did two sisters and a brother. 

Babi used to say I had the little Channelah's hair. How she loved to brush it. How she loved her.  

I have more heartbreaking stories where that came from, any of which can make my throat tighten in grief, any day of the year. 

Pain has a way of decreasing over time, and even more so over generations. I try to tell the next crop the stories of their past, to be grateful and to put their own tribulations into perspective. Yet it is hard to connect to an age of auto-da-fés, blood libels, massacres, pogroms, gas chambers. It is so distant all too quickly, all too unrelatable.

I was explaining the concept of Tisha B'Av to a non-Jewish client. 

"It is mourning, yes, but also an acknowledgement that we are culpable in our own pain. We were the ones that brought ourselves to this." 
We need to recall the pain in order to end it. To realize that no matter how annoying that other Jew is to us, he is still us. That vitriol against "those" types of Jews is as absurd a dialogue as haranguing one's toe for getting stubbed. We are but one organism, one body, one.

We speak about the Holocaust in revered, hushed tones. We don't discount the victim who lived the same lifestyle that we scorn on his descendants. The recent war in Israel shredded any divides as we all, as a nation, stood up and roared "Am Yisroel Chai!" We are supposed to feel for the ones living, no matter their choices, not be content to deify them in death. 

I am trying. I don't need reminders for the hardship; they have been burned into my synapses. I need reminders for tolerance, acceptance, and understanding.    


Daniel Saunders said...

I also find it hard sometimes to engage fully with our history, particularly the Holocaust. All my grandparents and some of my great-grandparents were born in the UK and while most of my maternal grandfather's aunts, uncles and cousins died in the Holocaust, the amusing war stories my grandfathers would sometimes tell were very different from standard Jewish stories of World War II.

Today I've been reading Elie Wiesel's Night, really trying to imagine what it must have been like to be in Auschwitz, yet the imagination necessarily falls short of the sheer horror of the reality. Likewise during Eichah and kinnot I tried to make the imaginative leap, but it was hard. I know that tonight I will go to sleep in a comfortable bed after a good meal and that, barring some freak accident, I can plan my life for the immediate future without risk of death or bereavement. It becomes almost impossible to imagine not being able to take that for granted. I can imagine the suffering, but it seems distant, like a horror film.

You are right to emphasise the inter-relationships of the Jewish people at this time, and, if nothing else, the war has produced greater unity. I have thought in the past that if there are six degrees of separation between people in the world, between Jews it is only three. Perhaps I exaggerated, but I discovered there are only four degrees of separation between me and Hadar Goldin, while I know there were only three degrees of separation between me and one of the casualties of the Second Lebanon War. This brings the conflict home almost as much as the thought of my aunt, uncle and cousins in the bomb shelter or the risk of my eldest cousin being called up again.

As Jews our limited numbers and many enemies should encourage us to stick together, yet we waste our energies on petty hatreds until the next crisis comes. If nothing else, we need to learn to love each other unconditionally (and I include myself in that).

Yocheved said...

Such an intense post! This line "We are supposed to feel for the ones living, no matter their choices, not be content to deify them in death. " gave me the shivers. You are so, so very right.

Princess Lea said...

DS: Fabulously said.

Yocheved: May I remember my own words.