- Posted by Jen Gubitz
- On August 11, 2019
- 0 Comments
It was by the waters of Babylon, the Psalm recounts, that we sat down in exile, in anguish, in mourning, yearning, longing to return home to Zion. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. Within its ruins lay the history and memory of the Jewish people. The sacred space of gathering for ritual and sacrifice was no longer more than a retaining wall on the West, an arch, and fallen stones. So we sat down by the waters of Babylon. As recalls the words of Lamentations, “Eicha! How!? Alas! Woe!” We cried out. We sat down and we wept in “circles and circles of sorrow,” this image from Toni Morrison. Circles and circles of sorrow rippling across the centuries.
It was by the waters of the Rio Grande, the news recounts, that they were shot down. And it matters not whether they had lived lives of exile or anguish, of joy and comfort, as natives or immigrants. They were just shopping, browsing, preparing for a new school year, which turned to running, fleeing, protecting and hovering over their new baby and strangers alike. As the shots rang out, their lives, each body, each soul a sacred temple of humanity, were destroyed. Within the ruins lay the history and memory and the future of their families. So we sat down by the waters of the Rio Grande or wherever we were when we heard the news of not 1, but 3 mass shootings in a Walmart, at a garlic festival, in a bar, in one week. “Eicha! How!? Alas! Woe,” we cry out!
“Eicha! Ow! The pain! Lament,” we cry out! We sit down and we weep in circles and circles of sorrow rippling across the centuries.
Rippling across the centuries, the circles and circles of sorrow of today’s world – of the mass shootings, of the immigrant separations, of the ICE deportations, of the warrings among nations, of the environment’s degradation, of the sufferings and the lamenting of people here and everywhere for reasons personal, communal, national, global – connect us to the circles of sorrow of ancient times and bring us to this moment in Jewish time: Tisha B’Av, the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av. It is a collective day of mourning that commemorates the twice destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and numerous other catastrophes in Jewish history. Even though we recall other historic tragedies all the time, it is this time once a year that Jewish tradition, with strategic care for our souls, collapses every tragedy into a collective worst day of our lives. It is a day observed by fasting, reciting lamentations, prohibiting oneself from joy, akin to Yom Kippur.
You probably just thought this was another summer weekend. Sorry. Sort of. For every weekend and every day, we often think it is just another summer weekend. And so we go to Walmart, or a garlic festival, a bar. Or we make plans for our health and wellbeing: whether reservations for good food, a yoga class, a dip in the pool, or maybe escaping an unsafe region in pursuit of a better life… You know, another summer weekend.
So what do we do? How do we live, and how have we lived, from summer weekend to summer weekend, from month to month, and year to year, century to century amid circles and circles of sorrow? Whether personal, communal, national or global, how do we live and how have we lived when it seems as if we go from destruction to destruction to destruction, from grieving to yearning to wailing?
You may be considering amid this devastating day of Tisha B’Av that mourns the Temple’s destruction – that we have not rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem. Although some still hope to, I was just there – and checked for you. Not rebuilt. Instead, a bunch of sages escaped to a place called Yavneh, others were living by the waters of Babylon, and still others were dispersed to waters beyond there. And there in sight of what was lost, in fear of what more they had to lose – they created something new. They created the footprint for the Judaism we have today. They moved beyond the cult of sacrifice, shifting from animals ablaze on an altar to prayers of the heart at Shabbat services. They held onto the precious ideal of Zion. Yes – it was certainly about inhabiting and returning to the land of Israel, but it was also about inhabiting an identity and becoming a people of Israel.
And though it took them centuries to discern the role of Jewish people among those from whom they differed, to figure out how they might live together even when continually oppressed or expelled: what ultimately linked them to one another was acknowledging that despite their differences, every living being is a sacred temple of humanity.
It took a long, long time. And just like the ancestors of the Jewish people, we are playing the long game, too.
Services outside in the city with wine and cheese, followed by 150 young adults flowing in for Riverway Project services was not what those rabbis imagined when they got creative in the wake of sorrow and destruction. But my how far we have come.
Rabbis, Jewish professionals, or congregants who embody female or non-binary identity were not what the those rabbis imagined when they got creative in the wake of sorrow and destruction. But my how far we have come.
Mass shootings or the dark and dirty places where we might jail children seeking a better life was not what those rabbis imagined when they got creative in the wake of sorrow and destruction. My how much further we have to go…
My how far we have come AND we have a long way to go. So what of the tragedies we still endure today? These Jewish innovations do not by any means replace the tragic loss of life or the depths of suffering endured over the ages. They never can. But as we play this long game: in our creativity, in our joining with humans of all kinds, we are building a fabric of connection and of strong conviction for what is right and good.
We are creating movements of change and challenge: when we gather [Sunday, August 11 at 5pm at the US immigration Courts] for a Tisha b’Av Lament for the Torment of Migrants and Refugees, we are standing up for what is right and what is good and what is just.
When we advocate and vote for national gun legislation to prevent the purchase of assault rifles, we are aiming strategically for a safer world.
So what do we do when the story of being human is so deeply immersed in circles and circles of sorrow, when it seems as if we live from destruction to destruction? We have a creative choice to make: On the collective worst day of the Jewish people’s life – Tisha B’Av – and the days that will come after it – we can sit by the waters and weep in our circles and circles, puddles really, of sorrow. Or we can stand by the waters, or in the waters if we have to, saving one another from the waters, and working together to obstruct that which seeks to destroy and drown us. Together, we must dream a future that sustains us all… nourished by circles and circles of love, compassion, strength and peace.