This amazing post was written by a friend of Jewschool.
You may know Oliver and Abigail, the Social Justice Tourists. They swoop into a deprived area, get their hands dirty for a week, and then fly home feeling all good about themselves.
This is a post about spiritual tourism and the Ninth of Av.
The Ninth of Av is one of the two major fast days in the Jewish liturgical cycle. It is a time of mourning, commemorating various sad things which have happened to the Jews at various times (wikipedia).
In the Three Weeks beforehand, Jews act a bit sad:
In the Nine Days beforehand, Jews act somewhat sadder:
And on the Ninth of Av itself, we act very very sad:
Which is all well and good. One of the things we like about the liturgical cycle is its ability to swing us through a whole range of emotions.
The thing is that the misery induced by the liturgical cycle is emotional tourism. The liturgy takes you in hand and leads you through a landscape of devastation and despair, and then you go to a break-fast, you have the Seven Weeks of Consolation, and you’re feeling renewed and strong again by the time the High Holy Days come round. Even if you take it very seriously and you’re genuinely miserable on Tisha b’Av, you get to go home afterwards, just like Oliver and Abigail.
This is depression (not everybody‘s depression, bear in mind):
Depression is an enormous dark pit. If you fall into the pit, you’re going to have a hell of a time getting yourself out again. If you have suicidal tendencies, there’s a very real chance that some day you may not make it out at all. And even if you’re not depressed right now, you always know the pit is there. You spend a disproportionate amount of time making sure you’re not sliding back towards the pit.
So this is what the Three Weeks mean to me, when I see you doing it:
Oliver and Abigail making titillating little jumps towards the landscape of horror I spend my days trying to get away from. Here they are in the Nine Days:
But it is tourism, because they get to go home afterwards.
I’m not saying there’s necessarily anything wrong with tourism. Even social justice tourism apparently has its mitigating factors. Just – for pity’s sake, remember that you’re a tourist, and try to be sensitive to the natives who can’t leave and go home because this is home.
Intellectually, I can understand compartmentalizing the destruction of the Temple, and engaging with its Jewish significance without sinking into the pit. Sure. Some years I even manage it. But emotionally, the runup to the Ninth of Av, and the day itself, can seem more like this:
And perhaps now you understand a little better why some of us don’t
really want to play.