Tisha b'Av as a Time of Supportive Experiential Community

This is an excerpt from Rabbi Milgram and her Hubbatzin Barry Bub Rebbe on the Road Travelogue series that was sent out in 2006. This entry discusses awareness and learning about Tisha b'Av that arose from their participation in the ALEPH Kallah that year:

Barry: My afternoon class is with Anne Brener on "Care of the Care Giver." We discuss mourning and since it is the week of Tisha B'Av - the fast day commemorating the destruction of the temples build by Kings David and then Solomon, we talk about mourning the loss of these Temples. I feel an urge to say that if there is one thing I have learned this journey, it is that nothing is permanent. Mountains, seas, lakes, glaciers - all come and go; even the planet, sun and universe. So why should the Temple last forever?

Someone responds that this should not stop us mourning our losses. Another person who is a priest (married to a Jewess) remarks that we should not discount the spirituality of beautiful buildings and religious objects, and not forget to remain grounded and physically in contact with these.

So this leads me to wonder if the answer for me is to love and respect art, beauty and architecture, mourn losing them when the time comes, and move on. We are selling our gorgeous house - in some ways my temple - and that is the nature of temples and houses and everything else.

Later Goldie explains that Tisha b'Av is about mourning our exiles; from Jerusalem, from self, from safe and supportive co-existence with other nations, from relationship with G*d. It is a time of considering all the consequences of being driven out of our homes, families torn apart, remembering many of the tragedies of the Jewish people. (Goldie: The end of Bar Kochba revolt, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Polish and Russian pogroms, etc, Many horrible moments within these were timed to this date, the 9th. Of Av)

So in a sense, this is on-going low-grade mourning, not the type you do once then get over your loss. Intrinsic to Judaism will always be an element of mourning. Around us people have blue and red threads in their prayer shawl fringes; I imagine one could have a black thread running through as well.

We step out from the evening service and Goldie does a free translation of Lamentations to a small group of us. She creates an image of the tragedy strikingly like that of Kosovo with our people streaming out of the city while aggressors mock us and G*d does not respond with help. Now I not only understand the tragedy, I begin to feel it. Then I rejoin the service in the tent, in semi darkness, link arms with the others and chant, allowing the feelings to take root.

Goldie: That word from the story of Noah jumps out at me again: hamas....all encompassing violence - devastation of everything, it appears in Lamentations in the emphatic infinitive absolute verb form, the action is attributed to G*d, to the melech, “ruling,” Yud Hay Vav Hay-- G*d aspect. Simultaneously, the presence, interpersonal, caring, Shechinah aspect of G*d is walking out as a mourner with Her people. The text has a Schindler's list type moment, where the plural verbs become feminine singular....one tragic young despoiled girl walks off the page as pure bitterness or it could be She is the Shechinah, mourning for her children.

A spiritual question implicit in Tisha B'Av becomes how is the Shechinah in exile now, in our lives, communities, countries, actions? How do we recreate the intent of the etymology of the word Jerusalem - which could be seen as "y'ru/ eer"=city, "shalem"=complete, whole, fulfilled, at peace?

My morning class is on dance midrash, movement-based interpretation of Torah with master teacher Liz Lerman. In three weeks I'll be in the Ukraine working with Jewish women and the movement skills she has taught me will be powerful tools to help transcend the spiritual language barrier

We are preparing to dance a section of Eichah, the Book of Lamentations, which is read on Tisha b'Av. Liz asks us to write out our worst nightmare, or invent a worst nightmare scenario. We then place these paragraphs on the floor around the room. We wander among them reading, and capturing key phrases which can be expressed in a movement.

I see someone wrote about a car wreck, rolling over and over in the vehicle out of control, it reminds me of what happened to beloved former congregants of mine.....I begin to roll on the floor feeling terror. Another writes of being trapped in freezing cold on a camping trip, their words rack my body with shivers. Another writes of being a Jew asking everyone to help her in her village during the war and they act as though they can not see her....I wander the room begging the invisible villagers for help....the woman beside enacts a miscarriage caused by assault.

We then take these movements - rolling out of control, shaking, begging and many more and share them in small groups and turn them into a choreography of terror, performing the sequence as a group. Then we receive our copy of Lamentations....a degree of understanding of the tragedy sets in, we become the mourners streaming out of Jerusalem, our daughters ravaged, our guts spilling out, our faith a torment......then we dance the movements to lines from the text.....I chant some of it in the haunting traditional melody. We become Tisha b'Av.

The next day our process deepens. As the day lengthens the topic of comfort begins to emerge. Liz Lerman has a brilliant way of encouraging us to find redemption in our ability to support one another. During a gorgeous niggun played by Rabbi David Shneyer, she has all of us walk slowly out of the tent, bending over at random every few yards....feeling the weariness of the fast and lingering images of horror. Each of us who sees someone so bent over, reaches over and gently and lovingly helps them to resume their walk in a standing position. Powerful comforting is happening on a vast scale.