Mourning and Hoping as a Community

I’m sitting on my couch at the moment, fuzzy-headed, because I’m on hour 23 of a 25 hour fast. Today is Tisha b’Av, the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av, and it’s one of two 25 hour fasts in the Jewish calendar, the other being Yom Kippur. In many ways, I find Yom Kippur easier. The day (versus the evening before) is shorter, because it’s in the fall. Yom Kippur is a day of atonement and prayer, spent in the synagogue with a palpable sense of desperation and anxiousness. Tisha b’Av, in contrast, is a day of mourning.

According to Jewish tradition, Tisha b’Av is the date of the destruction of both ancient temples in Jerusalem, events which ended in completely reshaped the religion. It continued to be a day of tremendous tragedy for Jews, including the destruction of Betar during the Bar Cochva revolt, the declaration of the first Crusade, expulsion of Jews from England and Spain, and liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. So Tisha b’Av is a day set aside for mourning.

I always find it a bit strange. I’m supposed to sit around and be sad but, to be honest, I’m more likely to be cranky from hunger. Cranky isn’t exactly the emotion I feel like I should have, towards Tisha b’Av. I know, intellectually, that it’s a sad day, but I have a hard time actually feeling it. As Mr. Shoshie is currently playing video games, I have an inkling that I’m not the only one. So, it got me thinking, how do we mourn as a community? Jewish law says that we fast, we abstain from bathing and having sex (related, perhaps?), we wear uncomfortable, non-leather shoes, we learn sad texts, like Eicha (Lamentations), instead of the rest of Torah. In my community, we sit in circles in the dark with candles. We sing sad songs and tell sad stories. And it brings the right mood, more or less. It certainly does a better job than Memorial Day in the US. But it’s still never much more than intellectual, for me. The exception was one year when I returned from Jerusalem a few days before Tisha b’Av, in 2003.

It’s much easier, I’ve found, to hope as a community. Tisha b’Av is also supposed to be the birthday for the Mashiach (Messiah). We recite, “T’chadesh yemeinu,” renew our days. Especially as the day comes to a close, there’s so much hope. It becomes kind of like Yom Kippur, with this anxiousness. Will this be the year that there is peace? Will this be the year when we no longer have to worry about antisemitism? Will this be the year without hate? It’s hard to mourn a past that you haven’t experienced, but hope, that unites us. While mourning can be so painful to share with others, I’ve found that hope is best when shared. Hope makes the air crackle. Hope makes people feel elated and brings cautious smiles, even when we’re at our lowest. Even when we’re uncertain.

Especially when we’re uncertain.

How do your communities find hope?

5 comments for “Mourning and Hoping as a Community

  1. seisy
    August 10, 2011 at 12:49 am

    I would love to have something to add on the subject of hope, but I’m just not up to the task tonight. But I wanted to say how much I appreciated this post. It’s beautiful, and there’s something in me that responded strongly to the intersection between ritual and remembrance and hope and mourning. I’m from a different place, and a different religious tradition, and a different history, but it resonated with me. Thank you.

  2. chava
    August 10, 2011 at 2:44 am

    I’m familiar with the cranky, oh heavens. I also have a hard time with the mourning portion of our program.

    So, I will attempt a cogent response later, but all I can think in response right now is “nyeh nyeh, I don’t have to fast this year” :-P Ahem.

  3. August 10, 2011 at 5:06 am

    I find hope in the fact that the Wheel of the Year is, well, a wheel, and it turns. Mabon, the autumn equinox, makes way for Samhain, when we mourn the dead and acknowledge the start of winter, and Samhain makes way for Yule, the winter solstice, when the sun starts growing stronger again, promising that winter won’t last forever.

  4. August 10, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Quakers are pacifists, so there is often much discouraging news to share. But what gives us hope are the times that peaceful solutions are met without the need for a war or a military action.

  5. Diana
    August 10, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    We find hope in knowing that we, as humans, determine our own futures, and that a setback is only what you make of it.

    This is a double-edged sword on a societal level, where we see so little empathy in the world around us, but on a personal level, knowing that there are always choices to make that will shift the course we’re on… it’s empowering. And as a scientist, a writer, and a sometimes-activist, it makes me hopeful that more and more members of ours species are slowly realizing this, and committing to be positive agents of change.

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