First day of the Month Av/Day One
Today is the first day of the Nine Days, the traditional period of mourning for the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the loss of life and freedom that came along with it 2,000 years ago. It is the custom to minimize joy on these days, abstain from meat, wine, music, and entertainment. This period is often used for reflection on all that’s lost in our collective legacy – all the terrible massacres and persecutions.
I grew up on this tradition, we wouldn’t go to the beach during the Nine Days, and no TV was allowed, nor movies.
In recent years I dropped it all. The fast of Av had become identified in many ways with national sentiments of land and temple and mourning for a loss that felt arcane. It had become a political narrative. My philosophy calls for ‘No crying over spilled milk’, mixed with d hesitation over identification with the nostalgic yearning for a Judaism where I scarcely feel at home. All this alienated me from the essence of these days. But this year it’s different. I want to explore the depth of what these days are about, not the yearning for the temple and the collective sign over its historical loss, but deeper, into the psychic-mystical meaning of acknowledging destruction, exile, brokenness and loss. We rarely allow ourselves to mourn in public for all that’s lost – whether for the public or private causes. These days are such an opportunity, and they lead one, should one choose to, away from the shattered loss of that has happened into a – hopefully – reconstructed sense of self, a future intention of Tikkun – repair. There’s a way of reading these symbolic meanings as a private, personal experience that is deeply universal– without taking out the collective, d particularly Jewish, historical narrative that is so often what this season is about. It is not just the period of mourning for the Jerusalem of above or below – it is also about the Jerusalem within. That which each year is destroyed and rebuilt again, like faith, like hopes.
The journey within is this: The nine days of Av chart our longing and the loss – we all have what to mourn about, we all have losses, some year greater some years less. We look put the broken shards of that which saddens us on the table and take it in, not blinking away. We honor the grief. But we don’t stop there. The fast of the Ninth day of Av leads directly to the fast of Yom Kippur – two months later. In the middle come the 30 days of Elul, the last month of the year in which we examine the shards – what’s not working and begin to mend. Nine more days lead from the first day of the New Year into the Day of Atonement in which we enter the Holy of Holies of our imagination – the innards of the temple, no longer destroyed. The holy of holies is a symbol for the utmost intimacy, the core experience of the human spirit – that towards which we aspire, eye to eye and face to face with self, with other, with divine. When the temple stood in Jerusalem only the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies, once a year on Yom Kippur. Today we enter it through story – through the Jerusalem within.
And when the fast of atonement is over we build a Succah – yet another symbol of a temple, of a shelter, sacred sanctuary of rebirth, a renewal of a new year dedicated to our highest hopes and aspirations. Here we go again. It will topple again next summer, and it will be rebuilt. And again.
THIS MORNING, early, at the Western Wall I join the group of Women of the Wall as they pray each new moon in defiance of the Orthodox domain. I stand behind the partition separating women from men, along with other men, and though I am there to support their righteous claim for religious expression I cannot help feeling the first sadness of these Nine Days: the sorrow of being segregated, behind a partition, struggling to see what’s going on and to be part of the prayer – second class citizen, behind the fence.
That’s what it feels like to be a woman in an Orthodox synagogue, an Arab at a checkpoint, to be me – gay Jew at some circles and gatherings, and on, and on. There is a pain here – a broken fragment of a bond of spirit torn and shattered, leaving behind rejection and rage. The pain of separation.
A young boy with long side curls accosts us as we stand there:” You are worse than Non-Jews!” He is easy to dismiss but even a young boy’s insults pierce the morning air with a reminder of what it feels like to be Other. Hatred for no reason but fear.
On this first day of the Nine Days I own the sense of loss that comes with being Other.
At this spot, 25 years ago I was sworn in as a paratrooper, vowing to defend my homeland. Right here, 23 years ago, I was arrested for participating in a co-ed prayer group on the eve of the Nine of Av.
Since then, this wall is not so much a sacred spot for me, where God once lived or now is worshipped – it is more of a reminder of how small minded men usurp the spirit and expound the hate. I mourn the innocence of coming here with excitement. This temple, even its ruins, is no longer home for me, or for my God. Hardly the place where I would, today, vow to give up my life, or offer up my heartfelt prayers.
Remember being the Other. The Torah says so again and again. Remember standing there behind the fence, feeling lesser than – and do all you can to minimize this reality for you- for others.
The first day of the Nine days on the journey to more joy, through the narrow paths of sorrow. First notice, honor, then try to fix.
Take stock of what hurts, of what needs fixing. I walk away from the real Jerusalem of stone as the heat rises, and enter the Jerusalem within: the place in my soul where Divine Presence weeps and cooks for Shabbat, and with a hundred hands sooths, and smoothes but doesn’t wipe away the tears, as she and I prepare to travel together, day by day, through Av and Elul and Tishrei through ruined temple and dashed hopes into a new year, renewed haven, a fresh new start. From sorrow to joy – 77 days. Go. Day one – here, now. Shabbat Shalom.