First posted by Community Word , Peoria, Illinois
From sundown on Saturday, July 25 until the evening of July 26 Jews around the world observe our national day of mourning, Tisha B’av. This day commemorates the destructions of both the first and second Jewish commonwealths (in 586 BCE and 70 CE respectively), as well as the many other moments of Jewish suffering in the last 2,000 years. From the Spanish Inquisition to the pogroms of Europe; from the Holocaust to the expulsion of almost 800,000 Jews from their homes in Arab countries in the decades following the founding of the State of Israel; this day of mourning and fasting has come to be a “home” for all of our national sufferings.
Yet, for all of the terrible tragedies that have befallen us, it is also a day on which I have often had trouble finding meaning in its particular observances. I live a comfortable middle-class life in the United States during a time in which Jews are welcomed into the very fabric of American life; and while the young state of Israel faces deep political, moral and existential challenges both at home and abroad, it is a thriving and amazing democracy with immense depths of creative, economic and cultural wealth. All of this is to say that it has been hard for me to have resonance with a “National Day of Jewish Mourning” that is primarily observed by not eating or drinking for 25 hours.
After all, rather than fasting all day, shouldn’t I be out trying to fix the brokenness that is all around us? As Jews we are commanded to not remain indifferent to the sufferings in our midst, but instead to do the holy work of Tikun Olam (the repair of the world). Fasting all day isn’t fixing anything in the world–it’s only making me grouchy, tired and short tempered! But then, while studying here in Jerusalem where my family and I are for the summer, I heard a teaching that radically transformed my understanding of this day: on Tisha B’Av, we fast and we mourn so that for one day a year we can do nothing but call out the injustices and the brokenness all around us. On every other day we are commanded to be involved in their repair, but on this day we instead just cry. We cry for the fact that we don’t live in a world where #blacklivesmatter is abundantly obvious; we cry for the victims of war and terror in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories; we cry for the close to 50 percent of Peoria children who are food-insecure; and we cry for the fact that we so often choose to ignore the suffering of those around us so that we can enjoy our own abundance without being overcome by guilt.
There is a Jewish tradition that the Messiah – the symbol of a world that has been redeemed, a world in which all human beings will be seen as being equally and infinitely valuable – will be born on Tisha B’Av. On Tisha B’Av, I invite all of us, Jewish and non-Jewish, to take a day of fasting and reflection, and to just cry for the brokenness all around us, remembering the teaching from the Book of Exodus: that the liberation from slavery in Egypt first had to begin with us crying out.
Rabbis Daniel and Karen Bogard participated in #HartmanSummer 2015: Justice & Righteousness at Shalom Hartman Institute. Daniel Bogard is a participant in the Institute’s Rabbinic Leadership Initiative . They are the rabbis of Congregation Anshai Emeth, Peoria’s oldest and largest Jewish community.