Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tisha B'Ambivalence

The evening of July 23 marks the beginning of Tisha B'Av (the 9th of Av), the day in which Jews around the world commemorate a series of tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people on the 9th of Av, most notably the destruction of the First and Second Temples and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. In observance of Tisha B'Av Jews around the world fast, and refrain from working, bathing or studying Torah, as well as other practices which are similar to those observed on Yom Kippur.

While Jewish tradition encourages us to remember the tragedies of our people even at times of joy (think breaking a glass at a wedding), I have a hard time with Tisha B'Av (and Yom Hashoa, but less so). I want to celebrate the vibrancy of Jewish life rather than mourn the events which unintentionally lead to its creation.

I recently read a book called In Every Tongue: The Racial and Ethnic Diversity of the Jewish People, written by Diane Tobin, Gary Tobin and Scott Rubin of the Institute of Jewish and Community Research, a Jewish think tank in San Francisco. The book is a primer for the Jewish community on how to better include Jews of Color, multiracial/multiethnic Jews, and non-Ashkenazi Jews and in one chapter entitled "Jews Have Always Been Diverse" the authors provide short accounts of the Jewish communities throughout the world. The fact that there are Jewish communities in China, India, and Ghana, and that there new synagogues being built in Nigeria speaks to the power of Jewish tradition to inspire, and to our ability to adapt to the needs to local communities. This diversity and adaptability is something to be celebrated, not mourned, and though it is strange to say so, this diversity would not have been possible if the Temple(s) were still around.

This diversity is also evident in the multitude of opportunities for Jewish expression and community in the United States. There are Jewish environmental institutes, summer arts camps, and weekends of Jewish learning; film festivals, yeshivot, and indy minyanim; blogs, social justice organizations, and social clubs. The list goes on and grows longer each day, and the more I learn about it the more I am inspired. The creation of multiple pathways to Judaism is what will keep the Jewish community strong, and this too would not be possible were our history different.

So, starting this year, I will adopt a new tradition in commemoration of Tisha B'Av. I will make a list of all the ways that Judaism has enriched my life and give thanks for the opportunity to live in a time and place where so much Jewish richness exists: Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam sheheheyanu vikiamanu vihigianu lazman hazeh. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who kept us alive and preserved us and enabled us to reach this season. I am truly grateful.

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